We fade in—-a worm.
Fred Milton tied to a chair. Room dark. Black as Monogram Pictures.
Club music through the walls. Booming bass. Neon flashes from a far window caught the blood on his chin.
He coughed, body shaking against the restraints.
He coughed, he coughed again.
“Do that one more time and I’m splitting your chin in fourths.”
Fred seized his throat. He choked and his body shook even harder.
From the back of him—-he walked around the chair. Tall, bald, bearded, Afro-cuban. A shadow over his face like the September 1929 cover of Black Mask. A leather jacket and no shirt that betrayed ribs. Black slacks and heavy boots.
Fred shook—-tears forming. Choking.
The other man laughed.
“Not in half—-no. That would be too easy. Too little work. And someone like you—-nothing like real and honest and hard work to do you some good.”
Fred clenched his jaw and bit his tongue. He blinked tears away. He choked.
Then he coughed, near vomited.
A harsh kick—-Fred hit the floor. Head spinning. More kicks to the head. More cries. More laughter.
Hold on this violence for a beat.
Fred caught what little breath he had left. He blinked tears away. He blinked blood.
His chin throbbed on four taps. Fred winced.
“See? One, two—-three and four.”
The weight of the chair on Fred, his body folded.
His mouth half-open when he said, “Please, why—-I already—-”
“You already did shit Mr. Milton and don’t you forget it.”
Fred’s lungs whistled as his only response.
An arc of light swinging open—-sudden. A shadow against a far wall. Through blood and tears Fred saw the outline.
A beret, a heavy bomber jacket, a skirt, boots. Hands on hips. The image towered Fred.
The voice—-high in pitch and young. Tiny stomps in his direction and the shadow became smaller.
She hopped over Fred’s body.
He watched with fading vision how the little girl pushed and knocked into the taller man.
“What the heck—-you started without me?”
“I start when I start. With or without you.”
“That’s so not fair.”
“Well—-time is what they say is money. Isn’t that right Mr. Milton?”
The man kicked again. Fred cried again.
Head—-slammed—-to floor. Fred bleeding and bleeding out.
“Gosh—-that’s enough don’t you think? Get him up.”
Hands on him—-handled without care. Fred back to a proper seating arrangement.
He blinked away blood and sweat and tears.
The little girl sat on his lap. She touched his face. Fred flinched.
The faint neon illuminated like philosophy. She looked at him and he looked at her.
He saw that she was young. She could be played by an actor from the Peking theatre. A red star emblazoned across her beret.
The little girl said, “Pauvre chou. You really did a number on him.”
The taller man, “I did. The number four.”
That laughter again. Even the little girl cracked a smile—-a missing front tooth.
Then she said, “So.”
“Oh he did more than talk. He screamed, he yelped, he cried, he blubbered, he drooled, he spat, he wailed, he hollered, he shrieked—-he even sang.”
“Wow. Just kick me out of bed next time will you? Hate missing a show.”
The taller man didn’t answer.
The little girl touched Fred’s cheek then chin. Fred groaned and tried to pull away but couldn’t.
“He even know where he is anymore?”
Fred groaned and tried to answer but couldn’t.
“Looks like a nada. Okay. You. You’re in the back office of a club—-Panorama to be exact. And who are you? You’re a wealthy man, a powerful man. Add those up and you get what our really spectacular society calls a good man. Ce qui apparaît est bon, ce qui est bon apparaît. That’s who you are.”
Fred slumped in his seat.
“How did you end up here? Well—-that doesn’t really matter, not in the way you’re probably wondering. The better and more interesting question to ask would be—-why are you here? And that I can answer. Unless mon ami already got to that too.”
“What? You sure?”
“Yes! Okay. The reason you’re here mister uh—-”
“Mr. Milton. Right. The reason you’re here Mr. Milton is precisely because of that wealth and power you have accumulated up until today. Because that wealth and power has made you into a commodity. And we’re going to spend you so hard it’ll make your head spin—-if it hasn’t already.”
Fred’s lips opened slightly. He pushed only a breath out.
“The—-the hell are you people?”
The little girl flashed a childish glare and pout.
“You stepped over a lot of people to get where you are and we’re the banana peel that makes you slip and crack your neck—-that is who the heck are we people uh—-I flubbed it.”
Fred bled and drooled a bit more.
The little girl patted his cheek and wiped her hand on his sleeve and leaned back and said, “How are we on time?”
“I meant—-you know what I meant, Styx.”
The taller man—-Styx, glanced at the little girl.
“Hour to midnight, D.”
“Where we headed?”
“Trailer lot at King District.”
“Oh that’s a great place for a big time drug deal. You’ve got good taste Mr. Milton. Guess you can buy that too.”
The little girl—-D hopped off his lap and the chair.
“Alright—-well I’m bored. Can we get going?”
“Almost. Still have a mess here.”
“Leave it to the night guys.”
“Wouldn’t be fair to them now would it?”
“Then you clean it up. What you get for starting without me.”
“Last chance to go home.”
“I’m not even going to grace that with a proper response.”
Styx shrugged then moved around D. Standing in front of Fred now.
Fred raised his chin—-weak. He said nothing.
Styx said, “I would apologize, but then it would be personal. And I just wanted to tell you—-make sure I made it perfectly clear for you—-it isn’t. You knew the rules Mr. Milton. You want to do business in this city, you have to do business with me. Otherwise—-you’ve seen how it turns out. Because—-you know the thing about business?”
Fred Milton blinked once and saw the tall man above him. Styx. Hand on neck and grip tight and tightening. He blinked once more and saw the little girl lounging back. D. She was sitting on a far table and swinging her legs freely. She was smiling her gap-tooth smile.
He no longer had the air to breath, to answer, to live.
The worm wriggled weak—-we fade to black.