Terry returns in style with...
Freddie Arbogast had no more doubts now. When the call came, he was giddy with relief. It was like dropping his gear after a forced march. He had arrived back at two a.m. from his second pizza delivery shift and saw the red blinking light of the message recorder. A young woman’s voice with that irritating California lilt said he was to report downtown in front of the Radisson lobby at five in the morning. He was told to shave closely, wear a dark business suit and would be given instructions and told what to do when he got there.
Expecting something like this, Freddie had already provided himself with three inexpensive suits from Goodwill—blue, charcoal gray, and beige—and had made the same alterations in all three including the darts in the back that would allow him to wear his holster without drawing attention.
Freddie’s cab dropped him off at quarter to five in front of the hotel. A beefeater opened the door. He hadn’t slept and his eyes were scratchy. His heart hammered in his ribs. A film of sweat lacquered his brow and his armpits were dripping from tension. The temperature was in the seventies with the suffocating mugginess of Lake Erie certain to make things unbearable by noon. A one-minute walk-on might not happen until late at night.
By five, people were milling about like hungry sheep. Freddie held himself in check with a pasted-on smile and tried not to seem out of place in case somebody was watching via the hotel’s CCTV system. By five-forty, one of the assistant lackeys herded them all into a dozen SUV rentals and they were driven to the Warehouse District. A different lackey showed up and divided them into groups; when the cue was given, he said, they were to walk toward the camera, on a tracking dolly in front of Arturo’s on the corner of West Sixth. They were not ever to look at the camera. He repeated these instructions with emphasis on not looking at the actors heading opposite them.
Freddie was soaked in perspiration from listening to this self-important minion rattle on. His guts seemed twisted into a pretzel, he had an urge to take a dump, and ants crawled under his skin. He could no longer hear the words the imbecile was speaking.
An hour went by, then two. A dozen times Freddie felt himself on the verge of blowing a rod, ripping off his clothes and running down the empty streets, gibbering. It was unbearable. Amazingly, no one noticed the volcanic pressure boiling up inside him. A tall black man in sunglasses stepped out of the restaurant and looked around for a moment, frowned and fixed his beret. His shaved head glistened when he removed his beret and Freddie recognized him as one of the four stars in town.
At four, Freddie’s group was signalled to begin walking down the street. He manoeuvred to get himself near the back and when the cue was flashed across the street, they headed toward the restaurant at the pace explained that morning. Each man and woman was given a prop—umbrellas, attaché cases, laptops—“accoutrement of the workaday professional,” as that little creep director had tediously explained a million times.
As the group passed the restaurant, Freddie peeled off, a wingman on his own mission, and headed directly up the steps of Arturo’s. He heard a loud voice amplified by a megaphone scream: “Cut! Cut! Where the hell’s that guy think he’s going?”
Freddie ignored him and everything else. Sound coalesced to a tinny buzz in his head. His vision contracted like a hi-beam on what was directly in front of him.
His heart bumped in his chest: Where were they? The Fate Sisters made it easy. The four big celebrities were isolated at a table in the center of the restaurant with all the other tables pushed back. Waiters or actors playing waiters hovered nearby. Three cameras triangulated on the table. Two couples having an unreal meal. A last supper . . .
Freddie removed his Baby Desert Eagle from his holster and shot the older female in the back just as she was raising a cup to her lips. The .45 ACP round blew a grapefruit-sized hole coming out her chest and spattered the young beauty opposite her with a face full of red matter. Her carefully made-up face was instantly stippled with red freckles while tissue debris and bone fragments dotted her coiffed hair. Before she could form her pretty mouth into a scream, the famous tall black man stood up. Freddie shot him just below the Adam’s apple and he somersaulted backwards.
Time had stopped now. No sounds at all, which didn’t surprise Freddie because he had experienced the same thing during those terrifying firefights in Afghanistan.
Freddie held the gun on the bespattered young star, hesitated, and then shot the second male lead instead as he tried to scramble under the table. Freddie suddenly forgot his name. He was a typical Hollywood pretty boy with his good looks and buffed body. The third shot scored a neat wound channel through the scalp and blew off a piece of skull cap.
The starlet’s eyes were glazed over in shock. His fourth shot took her in the right cheek and punched through her brain before exiting with a thwacking sound into the table behind her.
Freddie, now firm master of his destiny, looked down at the havoc he alone had created like a god. Time stood still. He could feel everything in the flood of adrenalin surging through him. Suddenly, the air around him seemed to ripple, sending him signals: danger, movement from the corners. The big bodies of the security men and bodyguards smashed into him a second later; they drove him face-first into the gleaming parquet floor. It was like being dragged beneath the chassis of a speeding car.
While they mauled him on the floor and snarled into his face, spitting curses. Freddie felt his elbow snap and a bone crack in his ribs. One hard kick to his face put his lights out. Before he drifted into that black whirlpool rushing toward him, he smiled through cracked teeth and bloody lips. Freddie wondered what his new body would look like when he emerged once again into the world in his terrible reincarnation.
Terry White lives in Northeast Ohio and has been publishing noir and hardboiled fiction for several years. Among his recent publications are stories in Yellow Mama, A Twist of Noir, Sex and Murder and “The Dog Returneth to His Vomit,” archived in TKnC. “The Frotteur in the Dark” was named one of the 6 Best Of stories for 2009 by 10,000 Tons of Black Ink.
An excerpt from Terry's first novel, featuring the P.I. Thomas Haftmann (Grand Mal, 2011) can be read here.