Aphelion Issue 263, Volume 25
July 2021
 
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The Organist

by Stephen H. Wallenfels


I'm in a hotel suite, 38th floor, with a sunset view of the Denver skyline. Marco is sitting in the living room, relaxed looking in one of those fat leather floating chairs you get with the big-bucks suites like this. His thick brown hair is slicked back, wearing a crisp new suit and a cheesy we're-all-friends-here smile. Gold rings, gold chains, tanned skin--I feel like I'm looking at an old-time gangster trading card. The only thing out of place are the dark sunglasses. Normally he's proud of his eyes, likes people to see them, to shake them up with his dark, piercing stare.

Marco is flanked by two thugs. One is a big guy, maybe 2 meters tall with dangerous shoulders and a long white scar under his chin--looks like it was put there with a shovel. The other one, smaller, seems more the athletic type. Probably real fast and knows some kind of chop-and-kick shit. Of the two, he looks smarter so I figure he's the one to watch. I notice he's missing the middle finger on his right hand. I've never seen either one of these guys before but that's no surprise. Marco's thugs turn over fast.

The big guy comes at me pulling a scanner. Marco smiles a little like he's sorry but its gotta be done no matter who. So I stand there while shovel-chin moves this red beam over me--up and down, in front and back and between my legs. Then switches the color to green and checks my shoes, my hair, and the inside of my mouth in case I'm packing a transmitter or maybe some exploding dental work.

"Clean, boss," he says, in a tone that I appreciate. Kind of disappointed, as if he were expecting something. I decide to let it pass. It's too early to get under that guys skin. Marco shrugs, still smiling. The big guy returns to his spot next to nine-fingers, looking loose and ready behind the floating chair.

Marco, being smooth, lights a cigar nice and slow. I stand by the door and wait. The air above him starts to turn grey, then the filters kick on and the smoke disappears. This lasts for a minute maybe, him sitting and smoking, the rest of us standing around. Then Marco nods his head and the two thugs go into another room and close the door. But the big guy, before he leaves, gives me one of those "you're mine" kind of looks, making sure we communicate. I wink at him. Maybe Marco notices, maybe he doesn't.

The brief case, not obvious but not hidden either, is on the floor next to the table in front of Marco.

He motions with his cigar for me to come in, points it at the chair across from him. "You're lookin' good, Tommy," he says, sitting back.

"Yeah? Well, I been runnin' a lot lately."

"You mean like jogging ...or maybe some other type a' running?"

"A little of both," I say. "I don't like standing around."

"You ever lift weights?"

"For a while. They got too heavy."

"You should keep at it," he says smiling, thin lips stretched tight against perfect teeth. "Ya never know when some extra muscle might come in handy."

Slowly, I say, "I got more important things to do,"

He puffs his cigar, considering that. Then leans forward, picks up the brief case and puts it on the table between us. I resist the urge to loosen my tie. What are the thugs doing, I wonder? Probably cleaning their guns.

"So what do you know?" he asks.

I shrug. "About what?"

"Last Wednesday."

"Just what I hear."

"Carmine tell ya anything?"

"Yeah, some," looking at those glasses.

He leans forward, his voice a low growl. "I don't care what fuckin' Carmine says. I was there, not him. So you listen to my side, the way it really happened, then we talk business."

"Fine," I say, looking at my watch. "You got about forty minutes."

Marco hesitates, then nods his head, puts down his cigar, and begins;

"All I did was order the simple elimination of a simple problem. My brother got a tip that one a my guys in shipping, a certain Luigi Tortella, was not really Luigi Tortella. Seems his real name is Phil Turner so naturally I get suspicious. On top a' that I hear that he lifts a ticker from one a' my stiffs to keep some kid in Detroit alive. Turns out the kid is his son. Now I'm a businessman, see, and I can't have employees, especially one like him, taking merchandise to keep their families alive. The way I see it, next thing ya know they need a new liver or a pancreas, and then what have ya got?"

Marco pauses, waiting for a reaction.

I nod my head. Whatever you say.

"So I tell Guiseppe to take care a' the problem. I feel bad about the kid, but it's a business decision, pure and simple. And more importantly, Luigi has this pair a' green eyes that women seem to crave. Weird color, almost like an olive with these bluish flecks. Nadia couldn't stop talkin' about ‘em. So I figure why the hell not. You don't see eyes like those one in a million.

"Guiseppe takes care a' Luigi. My docs give me two green eyes. A few weeks later I can see like a new man. And on the day I'm getting ready to celebrate my 173rd birthday, right outta no where, Guiseppe gives me this thing that I'm gonna show you. It's a holo-cording he made of his evening with Luigi."

Marco calls in the thugs. He tells them to set up the holo-tube, then yells at them for taking off their fuckin' jackets. No goddamn manners, he says, showin' their weapons like that.

He offers me a drink while we wait. Old Russian vodka? Maybe some beer? Orange juice? Nothing, I tell him. Marco opens a bag of pistachios and we wait some more. The thugs are having problems with the connections, what wire goes where. They try a few things, nothing works. Jeezus fuckin' christ, Marco says to them, it isn't no fuckin' VCR. They look puzzled. VCR? one asks. The hell's that?

Marco smiles and leans across the table. "I forget how old I really am," he whispers.

Finally they get it right and leave. The tube, nearly as tall as the ceiling and at least 5 feet wide, looks ridiculously big in the small room. He puts a disc in the tray and turns out the lights. You'll love this, he says, a true classic. A tribute to technology.

The tube turns pinkish, then dark blue, then suddenly they appear. Two guys in a garage or something, not quite life-size. One is sitting down. The other, looking like a wrestler gone to seed, is standing close by. A single overhead light, tools and stuff in the background. It's hard to tell at first. The reception is blurry. Marco swears, pushes some buttons on the controls. Everything clears up. I grip my seat, fighting back a scream.

Marco sees my reaction, I feel it. "That's Luigi strapped in the chair," he says. "You probably recognize Guiseppe. Notice how he takes care not to ruin the eyes."

Guiseppe is smiling, holding a club, enjoying himself. I notice he’s standing on some kind of plastic. It covers the floor.

"I'm makin' ya a little birthday present, boss. Meet Phil Turner, alias Luigi Tortella ..."'

Marco whispers to watch this. He starts walking across the room. Guiseppe's head turns, talking all the while, tracking Marco as he walks. "Damn," Marco says, "What I coulda done with this a hundred years ago."

" ...so I thought it might be a good idea to record this, maybe use it for parties or instructing or something."

"Why are you doing this? Guiseppe? What the hell's going on?"

"You slow or what?"

"You don't have ta do this. What lies have they been tellin' you?"

"Can ya believe it, boss. The guy still don't understand."

I want to turn away from the tube, away from the person struggling in the chair, but can't. I know this is a test.

Marco asks, "Tommy, ya think his shoulder's broke?"

"Maybe," I say. More like shattered, I think.

"Wait'll ya see this." Then Marco says, "Hey Guiseppe, did ya break the guys' shoulder or what?"

Guiseppe looks directly at Marco, grins, then nudges his victim's left shoulder with the stick. He is rewarded with a soul-deep scream. "Yeah, it’s broke," he says, like yeah, I drink beer.

"Can ya believe it?" Marco says proudly. "The fuckin' holo is interactive. I been talkin' to Guiseppe more on this thing than I did in real life. I got over two hundred different scenarios. I even get one where the guy escapes an I get ta shoot him."

"This is all very interesting," I say, sounding bored. "But can we move it along. I got places to be."

Marco says, "Sure, Tommy," his voice suddenly quiet, serious. "But you gotta see the best part. It has ta do with Wednesday night." Marco works the controls and the figures disappear, then reappear. Guiseppe is swinging his stick, working the legs. Marco says, "Nope. Almost there," then presses the button again. This time when they reappear Guiseppe is holding a hypodermic needle, approaching his semi conscious victim. Marco tells me to listen carefully, don't miss anything.

" ...did you say? You gotta speak more clear, Luigi. I can't understand you? Did you call me a name?"

Some mumbling. His lips are two hanging flaps of red pulp. I can't tell what he's saying. Anyway, I don't want to know. Guiseppe is standing next to him, hypodermic needle almost touching his neck. But like Marco says, the eyes are untouched.

"Before I stick ya with this, I thought you might like to know a couple a' more things. Marco, see, he likes your eyes. Thinks they're special."

"Dumb shit," Marco hisses.

"So even though you'll be dead, you can still be workin' for him. Only for free."

Guiseppe laughs. The victim makes a feeble attempt to spit. It just dribbles pink down his chin. I look at Marco, expecting him to be enjoying this. His face, surprisingly, is drawn tight, jaw muscles flexing. Once again, I wish I could see Marco’s eyes.

"An the other thing I thought ya might like ta know. Remember that kid in Detroit, the one ya lifted the heart for?"

The head somehow snaps up, suddenly alert. Guiseppe speaks slowly, drawing this out. I feel my stomach turning, bile rising in my throat.

"The boss told Rocko to take it back."

The body tenses, straining against the straps. He screams, shaking his head side to side. Guiseppe jabs him with the needle, pushes the plunger, then steps back, leaving the needle in the man's neck for effect.

"Right here," Marco whispers, turning up the volume to make sure I catch all of it. "Listen ta this."

The victim's voice, the fading tortured voice of a man named Phil Turner, says, somehow clear enough to understand;

"I'll come back ...back from hell to get ...I'll come ba ..."

Guiseppe says, "Happy Birthday, boss."

The grinning face of Guiseppe fades into white. Marco turns the tube off, then offers me some pistachios. No nuts, I tell him, but I could use a glass of water. I get it myself, not wanting him to see my hands, shaking like a rookie.

When I come back he's sitting at the table, puffing on a new cigar.

"So what’dya think," he asks from a cloud of smoke.

"Nice for the family collection. Like you say, a Disney classic."

"Guiseppe's got some talent, I think."

"Oscar material."

"Did ya think it was a little slow in parts?"

"Yeah, it had a tendency to drag on."

"What would you have done different?" he asks.

"I'm not a torture movie critic," I tell him. "Particularly the home made variety."

Marco looks at me, hard. I can almost see the outline of his eyes behind the dark lenses. Are they really green, I wonder?

"You hear what Luigi said right there at the end?"

"Said he was coming back from hell, something like that."

Marco put out his cigar. Smashed it in half, looking like a fat broken finger.

"Yeah, an' that's exactly what happened," he said, "Last Wednesday night."

Marco calls for a beer. One of the thugs, not the one missing a finger, comes out with a six-pack. He is wearing his jacket this time, which Marco acknowledges by telling him to stop mixing stripes with solids. Get some class, for chrissakes! I listen for sounds in the other room. Nothing. Good, thinking maybe thug #2 is taking a nap.

Marco takes a long drink, waits for me to open mine, then starts up again.

"That's when all the shit starts--two days after I see the holo for the first time. Guiseppe says he saw a shape that he thought looked a lot like Luigi Tortella standing outside my library window. My library is on the third floor, so to me that seemed unlikely. Besides, I got more security measures than the White House and Pentagon combined. But that didn't stop Guiseppe from squeezing off a couple a' rounds. It shook him up pretty bad because all he managed to do was shoot up my window and scare the hell out of Nadia. She ran from the room, naked and screaming, putting an end to an otherwise pleasant evening. All I can say is that Guiseppe is lucky she didn't wake up my wife and kids. Then there woulda been hell to pay if he'd a' done that.

"So me an Rocko take Guesseppi into the conference room and we talk about what he saw, and more importantly, what he did. It took a little while because Rocko hasn't developed a good technique yet and Guiseppe has these big lips that split too easy. It's really hard to understand Guiseppe under normal circumstances, and even harder when he's got a mouth full a' loose teeth and blood. Guiseppe was just about to the point where he was admitting that maybe he'd had too much wine with his cannelloni, when another scream, followed by a burst of machine gun fire, distracted us.

"So I left Guiseppe with Rocko, which turned out to be a mistake, and ran out to see what the hell else was going on. I found two a' my docs looking something like ground beef, and two of my guards standing around with their pieces smoking, looking confused.

"What the hell ya doin'?" I said, keeping my voice in a reasonable tone. "These guys are docs."

"Uh, boss" one of them tells me, "we saw something that we thought, uh, was something else."

"Something else!" I said. "SOMETHING ELSE! What the fuck

else can two guys with white lab coats look like besides docs? JEEZUZ! And this one is, was, a brain surgeon. A FUCKIN' BRAIN SURGEON! YA THINK THEY GROW ON TREES?" My blood pressure alarm goes off so I forced myself to calm down. Then I say, "Do you turd-heads know how much I paid for this brain surgeon?"

"A lot?" one of them answers.

"A lot? A LOT!" I kick the dead brain surgeon with one of my silk slippers. For a moment I wonder who the other doc is. He looks familiar.

"But boss," the other guard says. "We saw, uh, we thought we saw Luigi."

"What you saw was two docs taking an evening stroll." I tell them to take the two stiffs over to the shop to see if there was anything worth saving. Who knows? Then I think that maybe Rocko should get acquainted with these two shit-for-brains guards, which reminds me that I left Guiseppe with Rocko. So I run back to the conference room. On the way it's still bothering me who the other doc was.

"You keeping up with me?" Marco asks.

"So far," I say, "but you're making it hard."

"It gets worse," he says, opening another beer. "Where was I, anyway."

You're back in the conference room, I tell him.

"Yeah, thats right. So I scream ROCKO! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

I see the body of Guiseppe strapped to a chair, but what used to be his head now looks like shark food. Rocko is holding onto a baseball bat, his face as white as mozzarella.

"I saw him, Boss," Rocko says, almost in a whisper. "I saw him. Right there. I saw him."

He points at Guiseppe.

"Oh yeah? Well I'd like to see him, too. But all I see is is a GODDAMN PIZZA!"

"Luigi," he says. "I saw Luigi."

"This is, or was, Guiseppe, Rocko. Not Luigi. Do you understand? Guiseppe, NOT Luigi!"

Then he tells me Luigi's eyeballs were gone. He just had these two holes where his eyeballs should'a been.

"An' then he started laughing at me, Boss," he says, "an' calling me a guinea wop bastard."

"So you play baseball with Guiseppe's face because somebody that's dead calls ya a name!"

Marco takes a long sip on the beer, getting worked up. There are footsteps outside in the hall. People laughing, doors opening and closing. Marco tenses. The sounds fade, then stop completely. He takes a deep breath and starts up again.

"Then Rocko says to me Luigi wants his eyes back. He had come for his fuckin' eyes. Then Rocko goes kind a' stiff, lets the bat slip from his fingers and he drops to the floor. I had seen some pathetic sights in my life, but Rocko looking like this was a bad sign.

"Rocko," I said, as softly and patiently as I could. "I want you to listen carefully. Do you understand?" He nods his head. "Ok. Was there anything else? Did Guisep ...I mean Luigi mention any names. You know what I mean? Did he say who he was lookin' for?"

Rocko turned his head toward the floor, an I'll never forget what he said. Kinda slow, like a kid just lost his dog, he says, "You don't want ta know, Boss. Ya really don't want ta know."

Marco pauses. He tells me I can ask questions at any time. Keep it up, I tell him, you're on a roll.

"I go back to the house and make two phone calls. The first was to Frankie, the guy I hired to run my security. He assured me that nothing, not even a goddamn snake, gets in without him knowing about it. I tell him that I got my people turning up dead and he tells me that he don't know nothing about that, which doesn't surprise me. An' then, in the middle of telling me that all the electronics are checked every day, the video screen goes dead. All I can do is hear him. He sorta mumbles, `holy mother a' Christ ...'

"What? What is it? Frankie," I say, "there's something wrong with the monitor. I can't see a goddamn thing."

"It's ...it's Gino `The Blade' Lotta." he says. "He's floating in front of the tower window. And he ain't got no legs, Boss. He's got these two bloody stumps where his legs should be."

"The Blade?" I say. "He can't ...you can't ...it's not possible."

Then Frankie says The Blade is talkin' to him. That he can hear him, even through the bullet-proof glass.

So I watch the blank screen and listen, but I don't hear a thing. And while I'm waiting I notice my reflection in the monitor glass. There's something wrong with one a my eyes. Then I hear Frankie's voice.

He says, "Boss. I thought you said that The Blade went to work for Carmine?"

"Oh, yeah," I say, feeling a little concerned about the tone of his voice. Frankie is now sounding like a man that just learned too much. He's makin’ me nervous so I say, "You remember what happened, don't you? Carmine needed a good man in collections. So The Blade went to work for Carmine." At that point I was starting to sweat. It felt like a swarm a' ants down my back.

Frankie says, "Just a minute, Boss. The Blade's tellin' me something. He's sayin' he's come for his legs." He says--" then there's a few seconds of silence. Then, "Holy shit! Boss, he says you took his legs. That ain't true, is it?"

"Of course not," I tell him, trying to laugh. "Why would I want The Blade's legs when I got a thousand other better pairs to pick from?"

"I know why," he says, suddenly this real sharp guy. "Remember that day at your son's graduation party? Over by the pool? Your wife said Gino Lottas' got the legs of a racehorse. I heard that standin' right next to you."

At that moment I pound the monitor so hard I think I hear it crack. Then it occurs to me that I'm talking to my security guy about what a fuckin' ghost is telling him, when he should be figuring out what the hell is really going on around here.

"Do your fuckin' JOB!", I scream, then throw the monitor through a second story window. I take a quick look in the mirror behind me. You know what I saw?”

“No clue,” I say.

“My goddam eyes are gone. Gone! Just two empty sockets. I'm thinkin' it must be a dream. And then I remember that if I didn't have any eyes I wouldn't be able to see my reflection, so I start to laugh. I look at the mirror again and my eyes are back. Jesus, what a night.”

Marco says it's time for something a little stronger. He pours a glass of Vodka. The label looks unfamiliar. "You know how old this stuff is?" he asks, admiring the bottle. No idea, I tell him. "I got this as a gift for my 22nd wedding. I'll never forget it. I was marrying, what, must a' been my wife's grandmother. Name was somethin' like Vicki, or Veronica or Vanessa maybe. Anyway, she was a daughter of a Russian president.

Curious, I ask him if Nadia is related.

"Yeah, great grand-daughter," he says, smiling. "One a' the good things about living so long. I get ta train 'em young."

"So when do you call Carmine?" Getting back to the subject.

"Right," Marco says, "I'm coming to that.

"When I called Carmine all the tele-vids were dead so I had to use an old phone. Remember the kind where ya have to press the numbers? The overseas static is terrible, but I decide to ignore it. "It's me," I say.

"Marco! Marco! How are things with you?"

I don't like him using my name like that, over the old phones. I know my security man says the lines are safe, even from satellites, but it still bothers me.

I tell him I got a small problem.

"We all got small problems," he says.

"Can ya tell me what happened to Gino the Blade?"

"What are you askin' me? You don't remember?" He laughs so loud I have to hold the receiver away from my ear. "Take a look at your feet!" he says. "Maybe that'll help. Gino wore a size eleven. You used to wear a size 9 1/2. Now you wear a size eleven!"

"Ok, ok. All I was doin' is checking. Maybe something

happened. Maybe the order got mixed up."

"Don't tell me you're tired a' his legs already! I can't believe you're tellin' me this. I thought you told me that other wife, number 26 or 27 I think, loved those--"

"That's not the small problem."

"So what? What? You need a new pecker? Is that the `small' problem? The last one ya got woulda shamed a donkey. Christ, you go through those like pencils!" He laughs again.

"Carmine," I say over the laughter, "Carmine. CARMINE! Will you stop laughing and listen to me!"

"Ok," he says, choking a little. "Tell me about this problem a' yours."

I ask him if he's been having anything like ghosts hanging around his place? He says he doesn't understand.

"Ok," I say. "I know how it sounds. But really, have ya had anything funny like that happening over there?"

He asks me if I'm getting into all that "Rights for the Previously Alive" bullshit.

I tell him, "No. Nothing like that. I just mean there's some really weird stuff going on around here tonight."

"Like what? Do you hear chains rattling. That's probably what's her name, Nadia, calling you back to bed." I hear a restrained chuckle. Carmine, a fuckin' comedian.

I start to tell him about Guiseppe and the shredded docs when a thought comes to me.

"Carmine," I ask, "how old are you?"

"Two hundred and one and as good as new!"

"How many organs have ya had?"

"Hundreds? Thousands? Who the hell counts after the first 50."

So I ask him if he ever told anyone that he was gonna use their parts, ya know, like while they was still alive?

There was this heavy silence at the other end. It goes on and on. I start wondering if he was still on the line. Then he says, his voice real flat, ‘Now that would be a very stupid thing to do, very fuckin' stupid.’

Then the line goes dead.”

Nine-fingers interrupts, carrying a large pill in one hand and a glass of water in the other.

"Excuse me, Boss. Time for your medicine."

Marco takes the pill, downing it along with the remainder of the Vodka. "Prevents rejection," he explains, then tells nine-fingers to get the water outta here and find another bottle of the good stuff.

"How many livers have you been through?" I ask.

"They're supposed to last about 25 years, which is bullshit. I get 10-12 tops, depending on quality." Marco pulls a compu-pad out of his coat pocket. "Lets see," he says, pressing buttons. "Should be filed under livers. Yeah, here it is. The one I got in now only has another 2 years. That's not too good really, considering where it came from."

I don't ask. I don't want to know.

"Hey, Sammy!" Marco yells. "Where's that bottle. Ya need me to draw you a map or what?"

I look at my watch, making it obvious.

Marco tells me that remembering all this is making him thirsty. We wait until Nine-Fingers finds the bottle and leaves.

"The next thing I do is go to the shop and look for Vinnie, my guy in charge of inventory. I find him, can ya believe it, in a Goddamn broom closet.

"So Vinnie," I say, "Whatcha doin' in here?"

"Boss," he says, "What's goin' on? I mean ...it's been a freak show tonight. I seen people walkin' around here that's been dead for years!"

"Oh yeah?" I say, trying to smile. "Like who?"

"Michael Pastarone, Nunzio Santoro, that football player ya took the kidneys from--uh, Sammy "The Bear" Vincent! I saw Niko Cappelettie and he didn't have no nose! An' Leo Taggliacci, an' that priest, Father Andretti, the one ya got your last liv--"

"FREAKIN' LUIGI!!" I scream. "HE'S TELLIN' EVERY GODDAM GHOUL IN THE GODDAMN WORLD!" I slam my fist into the door next to Vinnie's head.

"Oh, that's right, I forgot," Vinnie says, "uh, he was here, too. Luigi was askin' for you. He didn't have no eyes."

I say, very calm-like, "Vinnie, I need an operation. Have we got any eyeballs?"

"Yeah," he tells me. "We got plenty a' those. 200 pairs came in the last shipment from that war in Eye-ran," then laughs at his stupid joke.

"Good. That's Good. Get me a doc and let’s get this thing going."

"Uh, there's a problem," he says.

"What? What sorta problem?"

"Ya remember those docs them guards shot a couple a hours ago? One of them was the doc that does eyes."

"Shit!" I say. Then it hits me. That was the other doc the guards smoked. "So who else?" I ask him. "Any one else that can do this job?"

He thinks for a moment, scratching his head. I feel sweat coming down my face. It's dripping off my nose and making a puddle on the floor.

"Vinnie! VINNIE!" I grab him by the shirt and shake him.

"Sorry, Boss. I was thinkin', ya know. Well, we had this doc, a skin guy, but ..."

"What do you mean, `but' ?"

"Rocko came in an' sorta crushed his brains. He said somethin' about him lookin' like Luigi and callin' him names."

"So what are you tellin' me? We got nobody here to do the job? IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE TELLIN' ME?"

"Sorry, Boss. All we got left is a bone guy. An' to tell ya the truth, I wouldn't trust him with my--" Suddenly Vinnie's face turns white and he presses his back to the closet wall. He makes the sign of the cross. Then he says, "Mother Maria! Boss, your eyes are gone!"

I take a step into the closet. "Vinnie," I say.

"Boss! Uh ...Luigi! I ...I didn't do it. I didn't do the eye job, Luigi. I swear ta God it wasn't me."

"I'm not Luigi," I tell him. "Vinnie, LOOK AT ME! I'm--"

"An' stop callin' me those names, Luigi. I'm tellin' ya it was the Boss. It was his idea, takin' the eyes."

I can hear Rocko's voice somewhere in the building. I hear glass breaking, people screaming. The sounds are coming closer. My heart, only a couple a' years old, feels like an exploding canteloupe.

"Vinnie, ya gotta do somethin' for me." I take another step into the closet. He starts making the sign of the cross, over and over again. "Stop doin' that," I say, "You're makin' me nervous. Now I want you to drive me to the airport. Can ya do that?"

Vinnie says, "Uh, I don't know if the Boss would like that. He don't appreciate people driving his cars."

So I scream at him, "GODDAMMIT, VINNIE! I AM THE BOSS. IT'S ME, MARCO!"

Vinnie slides to the floor next to the rags and keeps making crosses. I hear Rocko talking in the next room. He's saying, "Stop sayin' that. I'm gonna smash your face you keep talkin' about the boss like that!" I hear a thud, like a bat hitting a sack of potatoes. Desks turning over, chairs tossed around. Then I hear the potato sound two or three more times. Then silence. And then, "Hey! Who said that? That you, Luigi? You're in the next room? You stop sayin' that Luigi, I'm tellin' ya to stop sayin that!"

"Vinnie," I whisper, "where's the keys?"

I hear the latch on the door turning.

"WHERE'S THE GODDAMN KEY'S?"

Vinnie keeps making crosses but he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the keys to the Porsche. "Don't tell the Boss" he sobs, "please don't tell him."

Then Rocko comes in through the hall door just as I grab the keys. His shirt is ripped. He's got deep slashes across his chest and stomach. He's walking with a limp because of a gunshot wound in one of his legs. And he's carrying a bat. A very red bat.

Rocko says, almost whispering, "Boss? That you? Who ya been talkin' to in the closet? Luigi in there?"

"It's just Vinnie and me," I say while heading slowly toward the fire exit door. "We've been havin' a little discussion. That's all. What you been doing with that bat?"

He grins. "I've been killin' Luigis'. They're all over the freakin' place."

"That's good, Rocko," I tell him. "You keep doin' just that."

So I'm almost to the door. Vinnie's in the closet, still making his crosses. A small pool of blood is forming at Rocko's feet.

"Boss," Rocko says, almost whining. "What's wrong with your eyes? Where'd your eyeballs go?"

I put my hand on the bar.

Rocko's face begins to twist. "You're not the Boss," he says. "You're ...you're LUIGI! ANOTHER FUCKIN' LUIGI!"

He lunges at me, slips the puddle of blood and crashes to the floor. I dive out the door. As I run across the grass, toward the garage, the fire alarm starts ringing. I hope the batteries aren't dead on the Porsche.”

Marco wipes his forehead with a silk handkerchief. "Fuckin' Christ it's hot in here," he says.

"Feels great to me," I say, then give him a blank look. Make him think behind those glasses. He sits there, sweating.

Finally I ask, "Ghosts, Marco? You think Chicago's going to buy that?"

He shrugs, like it's no problem, but we both know different. He pours another drink, spilling some on the table. I hear a sound from the other room. Two short coughs, muffled, then a soft thud, like someone bumping into a sofa. Shit, I think, not yet! Marco should be able to recognize the sound of a silenced Magnum, but thankfully he doesn't seem to hear, concentrating on his drink.

Quickly I ask, "Anyone make it out besides you?" I shift around in my chair, making noise.

"Just me. Rocko killed most a' the docs. The fire got the rest. A shame, too. Can't harvest shit from burnt corpses."

"Does this put you out of business for a while?"

Smiling, Marco says, "There's a war in southern Mexico. I'll get my inventory up in six months, a year maybe. Besides, who the hell cares, the time I got."

Silence from the other room.

Marco pauses, drains his glass, then yells over his shoulder, "Hey, Jimmy. Do something 'bout the air in this place already, will ya. I'm tired a' sweatin' in my new suit." He hesitates, like he's going to wait but decides not to, then reaches down and picks up the briefcase. He puts it on the table, between us. It's some sort of smooth metal, black, with a voice activated combination.

"I need a new pair a eyeballs," he says. Just like that, like he needs a new pair of shoes. "Carmine knows a doc in L.A. will do the job but I gotta supply the merchandise."

"When?"

"Next couple a' days. It's gotta happen before Luigi finds me again."

"Fine," I say with a smile. "So tell me, why am I here?"

"No spare parts. All my New York inventory got destroyed in the fire."

"I'm not in the procurement side."

"Carmine says you're smart. You can handle problems when they come up. You been workin' for him for 8 years, says you can be trusted. I need a guy like that, now Guiseppe's gone."

"What's this?" I say, nodding at the briefcase.

Marco wipes at his temples, dabs his upper lip. He looks around, yells, "Jimmy, take care a' the freakin' heat!" Then to me, smiling thinly, "It's your incentive. You produce, I'll give ya the other half after the operation." Next he hands me a small computer disc, about the size of a quarter, in a clear plastic case.

"And this?"

"It has a list of possible candidates. Names, addresses, daily routines, even records of their latest vision tests. Do what ya have to do, just make sure they're blue, hazel, freakin' yellow--anything but goddamn green."

I take the briefcase and stand up, getting ready for what's about to happen. I'm not sure if he'll do something stupid, but I halfway hope that he does. I savor the thought, him falling to the ground, full of big red holes, death finally claiming it's long overdue prize.

Marco calls for one of the guys to open the door, to let his guest out.

"The shows over," I tell him, speaking loud enough to be heard through a closed door.

Marco looks up at me, something like a puzzled smile on his face. Then, slowly, reality makes its way through the haze of alcohol. He stands up, reaching for the bulge inside his coat. "Why you stinkin' piece a' ..." Good, I think, be stupid. The door to the other room crashes open.

I dive to my left, holding the briefcase if front of me just as Marco squeezes off two rounds. I hear about six more shots, all from weapons bigger than Marco's .45. Then a short silence. Then footsteps on the carpet.

"You ok, lieutenant?" a voice asks. It's the smaller thug, the one missing the finger.

I get up, noticing a large dark hole in the briefcase.

"Should I read him his rights?" he asks, smiling.

Marco is laying backwards on the table, facing up, legs splayed out at uncomfortable angles. His new suit, with all those red stains, doesn't look snappy anymore. Somehow, through all this, the sunglasses managed to stay on. I walk over to him, wait for a second, then slowly take them off. My throat tightens.

The eyes, Phil Turners' eyes, are wide open.

"You're right, Marco," I think, "green is definitely not your color."

Then I close the eyes, looking into them for the last time.

"Phil," I say, "he's all yours, partner."

THE END


© 2007 Stephen H. Wallenfels

Bio: Mr. Wallenfels is a freelance writer who has previously published short stories in Aboriginal Science Fiction and various magazines in the youth market. His favorite episode of Star Trek was ...

E-mail: Stephen Wallenfels

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