Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
The amber glow of a street light streamed through the kitchen window, over a sink stacked with last night’s casserole dishes, and turned a dark (hooded?) figure into a silhouette. The object he was lifting above his head looked like some kind of bat. The black metal fireplace poker that I’d picked up from the living room fell from my fingers and bounced off the 17th. Century Spanish tile. A tremendous flash of light went off in my brain and pain exploded from the back of my head. My legs become liquid as I tried to turn …. I could hear the slow swish of the Felix the Cat clock’s tail as it ticked off the seconds from the wall above the stove as I crumbled to the floor. I imagined Scarlett upstairs with the Tudor Queen quilt and matching sheet set pulled up to her mouth where I’d left her two minutes before … probably now too terrified to scream. There was a phone on her side of the bed next to the Tiffany lamp she’d paid too much for at a Beverly Hills charity auction last summer …. “Call 911”, I wanted to yell but my voice was no longer there … everything … the ironwood kitchen table, chairs, a Barrel Stave rack filled with cooking wines and three framed Red Skelton clown paintings went spinning around me like a carousel. Two needle haystacks of pain formed in the back of my head and then rolled to just behind my eyes … before they caught fire. With a last gasp of breath like a drowning man I followed the hastily assembled Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade into a big black hole.
“Where is the money old man?” The voice was in that punkish upper range right before it dropped into adulthood. Someone was dragging me across the kitchen floor by my hair but it was still too dark to see. Why didn’t they turn on the lights?
“I told you where we keep our cash!” It was Scarlett’s voice frantic with fear. “That’s all we have!”
I heard something between a punch and a slap. Slow gurgling noises came from my actress girlfriend between gasps of breath trying to become sobs. Two seconds later my head exploded for the second time in less than an hour. This time I didn’t pass out and had to endure the pain. “We’re tired of F#%$*&# around old man!” This voice was older with a Hispanic accent. “We know you brought home five million cash … yesterday!”
Tony Small! The name filled me with rage. We were in the last two weeks of production for The Dreamers and Tony wanted to expand the final fight scene. Unfortunately we had already exceeded our eighty-four million budget for the action film. “Another five minutes will set the theaters on fire,” he insisted.
“We have a good solid ending,” I argued. “The lowest test rating we got on all twelve different endings was a seven … besides,” I told him. “Special effects shooting gobbles up a mill a minute even without extra set costs. Where you going to get another five million dollars?”
“My uncle Rossi knows this Hummock with more money than brains,” Tony said. “He’ll buy in for four percent of the first run profits and a half a percent when it goes into syndication.”
As the film’s producers, Tony and I owned twenty percent of the film with 80 percent divided among various investors. “And the four and a half percent comes out of whose share?”
“The Star Film employee’s retirement fund,” Tony said. “We bump up their contribution to nine million instead of four and we write off the Hummock’s investment as operating expenses.”
“Can we do that?”
“It’s like taking your accounting books for a walk in the park and visiting the zoo,” Tony said. “So the monkeys throw some s#%$ at your ledgers … we clean it up. If we don’t get at least a one point rise from the next test audience I’ll eat a percent myself … but if we do …” he hesitated.
“Okay,’ I told him. “We eat at the same table. You arrange for the money and I’ll tell Goldfield we’ll be shooting and pasting for another five days. If this bombs … we both go to the hospital with burns.”
Two nights later we met Zerenzo Luciano under a Santa Monica overpass. He rode in the back seat of a six year old Lincoln and I kept thinking of the classic movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He told dirty jokes with a heavy Italian accent while our lawyer and one of his three goons signed papers on the hood of the Continental. His investment turned out to be a massive Samsonite suitcase crammed full of hundred-dollar bills. I swore under my breath and kicked chunks of loose asphalt with my Gucci loafers as the big black car pulled away and I told Tony “Never again!” He took the cash … and told me not to worry.
The guy dragging me flung me against the kitchen wall. I could smell Scarlett’s perfume; she was on the floor beside me. “This is going to get ugly real fast,’ the older man said. I heard a faint click and Scarlett screamed. “Look at me old man!” the Hispanic demanded. I turned my head toward my girlfriend and then toward his voice I could see only black. I suddenly realized the lights in the kitchen were not off …
‘I can’t,” I said hardly believing myself. “I’m blind!”
Scarlett was holding her breath and so I held mine. I could feel a faint movement of air in front of my face. There was a tiny gasping cry from my girlfriend. The blade of a knife brushed my cheek.
“Damn, I think he is blind … blind as a bat!”
“My partner took care of the money,’ I told them. “It’s probably in a bank.”
“Nobody puts dirty money in a bank,” the Hispanic man said. “Too many questions and nobody can stop talking about it.”
Suddenly I was mad at Tony Small. We’d worked three long years on The Dreamers … eighteen hour days … nine days a week. It was a great movie perhaps not an Oscar winner but a moneymaker … all the Hollywood signs said so. The distributors were increasing their advertising budget not cutting it; that told you more than a hundred test viewings.
This time it was the punk’s voice in my face. “The money was never out of our sight until it came here,” he said. “Why don’t you tell us where it is and spare yourself some pain?” I could hear him drawing drips back up his nose. I realized I was dealing with at least one meth addict.
I tried to think about where I’d gone after Tony and I got the investment money under the overpass. It wasn’t home … I gone for a drink … China Jim’s on Sunset Boulevard. Perhaps these men weren’t lying. Tony could have brought the cash here …. But why? If he did …why didn’t Scarlett say that he’d been here?
“I don’t know anything about it,” I told them. “You’ll have to ask Tony.”
I could smell the Hispanic man’s dirty boots seconds before he kicked me in the side. I was instantly sick and a bit of last night’s cashew casserole dripped from my mouth onto my pajamas. If death was pain and darkness I was already halfway there. Someone tied my hands behind my back with what felt like leather shoelaces.
“We spent last night at your friend’s house,” the voice said. “It’s hard to get a dead man to talk … so we came here.”
“You killed him?”
“He was toast when we got there,” the punk said with a laugh, “I buttered him right between the eyes … and he looked like he never saw it coming.”
“We found the big blue suitcase but there was no money,” Hispanic said. “That much cash doesn’t just hide under a rug.”
“We tore his f$%#$^% place apart. He must have brought the money here.” I heard a crash that could only have come from a sixteenth century curio cabinet filled with priceless blown glass objects followed by Punk’s insane laughter.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“Practicing,” the punk said, then drip sniffed. “Your pal’s house looked like a glass recycling bin when we left. We don’t want you to think we gave him more of our attention.”
“I’ve got a much better idea,” the Hispanic man said. “Perhaps if we do some practicing on your woman?”
I could hear Scarlett struggling mixed with Punk’s snorting laughter. I heard a slap followed by two heavy punches. “Help me carry her up to the bedroom.” The Hispanic grunted as if lifting a weight.
“What about him?”
“He ain’t going anywhere.”
“I think you’re right … but better safe than sorry.”
My head exploded for the third time that night. The spinning carousel was back, but this time the clown paintings were moving in slow motion as I bounced off the floor. What really terrified me was that these cheap hoods didn’t know what they were doing. Each one of the original signed Red Skelton clown paintings hanging on the wall in the kitchen would sell for close to a million at auction and my house was a treasure chest of antiques and collectables. I was aware of my cheek being cut by priceless broken blown glass … but I didn’t care. I wanted my sight back. I’d made a career of thinking visually … plotting out scenes in hundreds of writing tablets that ended up looking like comic books. I could study a storyboard and know how it was going to look on film. Tony said another five minutes would put the film over the top … I prayed for just one minute of sight so I could work this thing out. But it would have to wait. This time I was really sick.
I heard a scream from somewhere up above just as something dragged me down into a creepy cellar … and closed the door behind us.
To be continued …