The Pendant Strikes!
by Alexandra Erin
“Who sent you?” the gruff voice barked from inside. All the man could see of the speaker were ugly dark eyes beneath a beetle brow, visible through the opened slot in the thick door.
“My sister,” he replied without hesitation.
“What’s her name?”
The slit slammed shut. The man cooled his heels, leaning only his gloved left hand against the filthy brick wall for interminably long moments before he heard the sound of a bolt being drawn open and a chain being done. The door swung inward, allowing a trapezoidal patch of light to spill out among the refuse in the alley. It was a sickly, yellow-orange color and it caught the floating motes of particulate waste in the air in a way that made the light itself seem unclean. The man stepped over the threshold gingerly, tentatively, as if he found the light within distasteful.
“Is it true that three city councilmen were seen drinking here together last week?” he asked the big gorilla behind the door who was already hastening to shut and bar the door.
“This joint?” the bouncer laughed, then suddenly stuck out his arm to block the man’s passage.
“Why’s your other hand inside your overcoat?” he asked suspiciously. “You’re gonna make folks nervous walking around in here like that.”
“Let’s just say I’m into a few rackets,” he said, shrugging and leaning to the side, causing his coat to flap outwards, revealing his right arm in a sling. “Tennis rackets.”
“Why don’t I take that coat,” the big lug said, pulling it off him without bothering to wait for a response. The man was forced to wriggle his left arm free of the sleeve.
“Hoo boy, that’s some great service,” he said, rolling his shoulders. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of a claim check?”
The presence of risque pin-ups and movie posters tacked up on some of the thick brick walls did nothing to disguise the joint’s origins as an industrial building of some kind, and neither did the strings of colored lights wrapped inexpertly around the support poles. The room was full of tables and chairs that looked like they’d been scavenged from a dozen different restaurants and bars as well as some flea market easy chairs and divans. The bar was a long cedar box, naked and unvarnished. A credenza-style Victrola near the far end of the bar turned out scratchy jazz, though no one was dancing.
Most of the tables were full. There was a short man in an off-the-rack suit talking to the bartender, a man who looked like he might have been first cousin to the doorman. At the far end of the bar was a wreck of a man with no less than three empty bottles rolling around on the floor at his feet. He was slumped over the bar, his knees not quite touching the ground. A moth-eaten tan coat provided a head and arm rest. There were no stools, and no one else was drinking at the bar. A few dames in clothes that could only charitably be called “jazzy” patrolled the floor with trays of cigarettes and other smokables, their faces haggard and drawn, bright blood red paint smeared on their lips and dark semicircles under their eyes mirrored by kohl-colored eyeshadow above.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked at his approach, straight and to the point.
“Scotch. Neat. This is my first real drink in weeks, I don’t want it watered down.”
The bartender set a clean glass — the only clean thing the man had seen so far — on the bar and filled it from an unmarked bottle.
“What’s with the jungle music?” the man asked the bartender. “It’s about enough to drive a man to drink.”
“That’s the idea,” the short man in an off-the-rack suit said. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you in here before.”
“Isn’t that a funny thing? ’cause I don’t believe I’ve been here before.”
“What do they call you, stranger?”
“So how’d you hear about us... ‘Doc’?” the short man asked.
“Why? Is that important?”
“It is to me.”
“I can’t imagine why it would be any of your business.”
“This whole joint is his business,” the bartender snapped.
“Easy, easy, Rudy,” the short man said. “It’s like this, ‘Doc’... say you’re seein’ a new patient for the very first time.”
“I’m not that kind of doctor.”
“Nah, I guess you wouldn’t be or else you’d just write yourself a prescription instead of coming here,” he said. “Okay, but you know that when you see a new doctor, they want to know who you went to before, so they know who to talk to in case they run into any... complications later on.”
“I take your point,” Doc said ruefully. “I got it from a fella named Reese that I played cards with once or twice.”
“This Reese... he got a first name?”
“Not one that I know, unless it’s ‘Detective’.”
“He’s got enough tin in his wallet.”
“That’s a problem, ’cause I don’t know no Detective Reese, and while some cops are pretty alright, some aren’t.”
“You mean J.J. Reese?” a nearby patron asked.
“You know this guy’s Detective Reese?” the short man asked.
“Yeah, Detective J.J. Reese,” the other man responded. “He’s a stand-up guy. Helped me out of a few jams.”
“He someone you can trust?”
“Let’s just say we both know where the bodies are buried,” the other man said.
“Good enough for now,” the boss said. “Drink up, Doc... that first one’s on me.”
“Why all the suspicion?” asked Doc. “If all the cops are like my new pal Reese, they enjoy a stiff drink as much as the next fella.”
“There’s more than cops in this town that we have to worry about,” the short man said ominously.
“Oh?” Doc prompted, eyebrow raised.
“A vigilante killer,” Rudy explained. “Called the Pendant. Shot up three gin joints in the last two months. No one’s ever got a good look at his face, but they say he’s a southpaw.”
“You’re not left-handed, are you?” the short man pressed.
“Me? No. I’ve been going crazy with my right wing clipped,” he said. “You fellas look pretty nervous. This guy, he must be pretty big to put the scare on a couple of tough customers like you.”
“I’m not scared,” the bartender said, indignantly. “Just cautious.”
“Anyway, they say he’s more thin and wiry, but tall. Kind of like you,” the short man said.
“You know, this is quality stuff,” the man called Doc said, slugging it down. “Best I’ve had all week.”
“You said it was the first you’ve had all week,” the bartender said.
“I make a little joke,” he explained. “But I’m serious. This is the real stuff, it didn’t come out of somebody’s bathtub or a basement still. Where’s it come from, Canada?”
Both Rudy the bartender and the man in charge stood tight-lipped at this question, saying nothing aloud though a dangerous look passed between them.
“I mean, say a fella wanted to get his hands on a lot of this stuff, same quality,” the newcomer said. “Who would he see about that?”
“Nobody who’d talk to you,” Rudy said.
“Hey, I thought you fellas were businessmen,” Doc protested. “Aren’t I a customer? Isn’t my money good? Or do you only like it in small doses?”
“What do you want with so much booze?” the short man asked, suspiciously.
“I’m not looking to compete if that’s what you mean... I’m just looking to throw a little party... or a lot of big ones... and I don’t want to take my chances dealing with a bunch of small-time operators. Take a chance one of my guests ends up blind or worse. If someone would say, hook me up with a regular source, I’d be able to make it worth their while.”
“I tell you what,” the short man said, greed warring with caution on his face. “Let me talk to your Detective Reese and anyone else you think can vouch for you, and then we’ll get in touch. You don’t need this stuff right away?”
“No, no sooner than, say, two weeks? Is that too soon?”
“I don’t think so,” the short man said. “Two weeks should be plenty of time to get something put together.”
“Not that I don’t trust you,” Doc said, “but I would really need to meet the supplier in person. You check me out, I check you out. Keep everybody honest.”
“You show the right colored money upfront, and I’ll take you home to meet my mother. You know where I can get in touch with this guy Reese? I don’t exactly want to bother an officer at work.”
“You say Reese?” the drunk at the end of the bar said slurredly. He’d picked himself up off the counter for the first time since Doc entered, revealing dull, unfocused eyes and a large hooked nose beneath his halo of tousled, dirty gray hair. “Jim Reese?”
“What’s it to you?” the short man sneered at the lush.
“You mean Detective James Joyce Reese?” the boozehound said, getting himself upright with the aid of his arms.
“Is that his name?” the short man asked of the man who’d spoken up for the detective earlier. “James Joyce?”
“Yeah, that’s him alright. He can’t stand that name, his pa and ma used their own names as his first and middle name and he can’t stand either one of them, so it’s either J.J. or Jim.”
“Jim Reese is dead,” the drunk insisted, bleary-eyed. “They found him an hour ago with a bullet in his brain. Back of the head. He trusted the wrong person.”
“Son of a...” the short man began. Instantly three men came out from the crowd and surrounded Doc. “Not left-handed, huh?”
“What? You don’t think... I swear to God, fellas, I’m just looking to buy some booze!” Doc protested, backing up against the counter. Strong arms grabbed his wrists and pulled him forward, forcing his hands behind his back.
“Take him in back,” the short man said, watching as the screaming “Doc“ was dragged away, then turning to address the unexpected source of information. “You! Boozy! Where’d you hear about this Reese guy getting whacked?”
“Didn’t,” he said. His left hand was under the ragged coat that he’d been using for a pillow.
“What? Why the hell did you say he was dead for, then?”
“He is,” the man said, his eyes suddenly a lot more focused, his voice deeper and his articulation more clear. “I killed him. A crooked cop’s the only thing worse than an honest crook.”
“Nail him!” the short man screamed. The “drunk” exploded into action. He whipped the coat — a long, tan corduroy jacket — around, unfurling it like a billowing cape, obscuring him from view. Pistol shots struck the flapping garment from five different angles before it fell to the ground... revealing an empty space in front of the bar.
“What the devil?” the short man asked.
A pistol shot sounded and Rudy the bartender fell over dead, a bullet exiting the side of his skull upwards at a forty-five degree angle of inclination. While all eyes were still on the stricken man, the gunman popped up from behind the bar. His thick mop of graying hair was gone, as was his beaked nose... though his true one was concealed beneath a triangle of black fabric that covered the lower half of his face. A five inch crystal spire hung from a cord around his neck. His left hand held a strange snub-nosed .45 caliber revolver, the barrel only two inches in length. It was a special training model of a British service pistol. The shortened barrel was part of a design that left the mechanisms exposed, but he’d picked it up for added concealability. With machine efficiency, he fired in each direction a bullet had came at him from, dropping everyone in the room who had a pistol drawn, which included the ape-like bouncer. Everyone else in the room was making for the exit.
“Neat trick,” the short man said, his hand inside his jacket, “but you’re out of bullets.”
Before he got his hand clear, the Pendant’s right hand whipped up, holding a double-shot derringer which spat a small round directly between the man’s eyes, ending him.
The whole affair had taken a matter of seconds. The vigilante quickly holstered his firearms and then was in place flat against the wall, the door to the back room a few feet from his right hand, when the first of the thugs came running out, gun drawn. The Pendant spun on the ball of his right heel, tripping the thug up with a hard sweeping kick to his shin with his left foot. The man went down, his gun flying from his grip. The Pendant’s left hand snaked out and caught it from the air.
His two companions were charging fast behind them, and a half-step to the side brought the Pendant directly into their path. He punched out with both hands, his left hand holding the purloined gun and the other open-palmed, striking them both in the solar plexus with sickening force, sending them staggering backwards. The Pendant brought the gun into line and fired twice. The men were dead when they hit the floor. Another shot made short work of the gun’s owner.
The man called Doc was on a heavy wooden chair in the middle of the back room, which was stacked high with crates and keg-like barrels. The men hadn’t even tied him up yet, though he seemed stuck to the spot in fear.
“So... Doc, is it?” the Pendant asked, waving the gun not at the man, but to the side as if he were gesturing idly. Somehow the gesture seemed even more threatening than if he’d aimed right at the man’s head. “You sounded like you were planning to make a rather large transaction.”
“Oh, God... don’t kill me.”
“Kill you?” the vigilante echoed, sounding surprised. “Why, Doc? Have you done anything worth killing over?”
“I just came here to buy a drink.”
“A lot of drink,” the Pendant said, stalking forward. “For a lot of money.”
“I’ve only got a couple bucks,” he insisted. “I wasn’t planning on making any big purchases tonight, just... laying the ground work.”
“You lie,” the vigilante said. He brought his booted left foot up and kicked the seated man high in the chest, toppling him backwards, chair and all. He followed through, without force, so that his leg was poised over the man’s rib cage when he landed. The gun was also pointed squarely in Doc’s face. “You weren’t planning on it, but you were ready for the opportunity... or the possibility you’d have to pay up front.”
“Oh God... look, it’s not my money,” he said. “I wasn’t buying for myself. It’s my life if I lose it!”
“I could take your money or your life any time I wanted,” the Pendant said, shifting his weight a bit to make the point more vivid. “In fact, I’m going to take the money, and the name of the man it belongs to... and I’m going to let you live, and you’re going to be grateful. So grateful that you’re going to do something for me. Isn’t that right, Doc?”
“Oh, please, God! What do you want me to do?” Doc cried, staring down the barrel of the gun and feeling the crushing pressure on his chest.
“I want you to spread the word... to your boss, to your poker buddies, to anybody who’ll listen. Tell them this town is going dry. Tell them the police departments are going clean. You tell them... the Pendant is coming for them, and he’s going all the way to the top.”
“You’re crazy,” Doc protested, despite his predicament. “You can’t fight them all. Nobody can! You’ll be killed. You have to know this.”
“Is there a point attached to that outburst?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why?” the vigilante asked. “The same reason that politicians turn a blind eye to wholesale slaughter while helping themselves to the public treasury. The same reason the rich get away with rape and murder. The same reason gangs blow each other away with machine guns over a single block of territory. The same reason the poor knife each other in the streets for a scrap of food or a bottle of moonshine. The same reason anybody does anything...”
“Because I can.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Alexandra Erin