On a Cold Hot Summer Night
“Damn, it’s dark,” Kerry observed.
“It’s half past midnight, Herkimer,” Alphie Mendleson chided.
“Even then, it shouldn’t be this dark, there is something wrong about it,” his partner mumbled through unsure lips.
The pair walked down by the silent waterfront, alone by all visible clues.
They were not alone.
Alphie snorted by way of dismissing his compatriot’s unease and then said, “Where the heck is Collins? He should have been here an hour ago.”
That was, at last, something that Shawn Kerry could acknowledge and he quickly nodded his acquiesce. If he had to be here, so should Collins.
It was getting colder by the minute, strange for these usually sweltering summer nights. But they were near the lake after all. Maybe that was an explanation. Maybe the water made it colder.
He, just for an instance, looked down in the dark, murky waters of the lake and wondered just how many bodies had been dropped there this year. There would have been many, he decided. It had been a contentious year for the mobs.
“What do you know about the Gravedigger’s mob?” Kerry asked.
“Stay away,” Mendleson snapped back, “They are bad news, dark or light. Only one thing on Earth that’s worse.”
“I know that, the Night Terror. He’s straight from Hell itself. Some kind of Ghostly Vigilante, they tell me.” Shawn’s teeth had to consider whether they would chatter or grit. Then he let them grit, to keep them from chattering. Gritting looked tough, chattering looked scared. He’d rather look tougher than he felt.
Shawn was forceful, “No-Nose Callahan and his gang, all 35 of them, killed off in one night. Butch Bacall’s crew was liquidated, right in the middle of a midnight bank robbery! Not even a single one got away. None of them ever seen again.”
“Naw, Minsky survived of that thing.”
“Yer right,” his partner admitted, “But, he was bats from that night on. I saw him once, and his eyes….there’s nothing left behind them. I’d take on Capone, Dutch Schultz and the Gravediggers before I’d face that guy!”
“You don’t know the half of it,” the voice was invisible, its source unknowable and yet it came, spectrally, from all around.
Both the mobsters swung about, looking everywhere for that rumbling bass statement, with fear seasoning their eyes.
“Who….?” Kerry spewed.
There was a long pause. Not even the cicadas made a sound. They regarded each other with a pleading glance of pure panic, their knees becoming a pudding of rice. Then the voice, that hollow, deathly voice, filled every inch of the pier with terror.
“I’m closing down the Gravedigger’s bunch, but your boss will fall first,” the voice whispered in a hiss.
The air got instantly colder. So much so that they noticed each other’s breath puffing hurriedly from their mouths. Their breathing had been sped up by fear, and they both knew it.
Why the hell was it so cold? The night had been in the 80’s when they got here. Now it was like they were in the freezer with the ice cube trays. Or the morgue.
“What do you want,” Alphie stammered, like a man fearing to fall into his own grave, “M..Mr…Mr. Terror?”
The voice assailed them now, “What do I want? Why do I come from the darkest recesses of the grave?”
Neither man had the ability to answer. Words belong to men who thought rationally. They had long since tumbled into the pit of mindless panic.
“The end of evil, the fall of crime,” said the voice and then it put the icing on the cake. A laugh erupted and echoed into every corner of that open space. It was a laugh that sank into their bones, and then shook them to the skeleton. It was a laugh that would have made The Shadow step back.
The laugh felt like a physical assault, not just a mental one.
It didn’t stop for a full minute.
Sweat beaded on the foreheads and upper lips of both men. They had heard of that laugh, and not on the radio. Chicago Rafe had heard it last year, just before he lost his mind. He had been beating up a deadbeat client of the boss and then he just heard that laugh. After a few minutes he ran. When they picked him up he was laughing. His clothes were in tatters and his eyes could never stay still. He was laughing too. He never stopped. They put him away, but that didn’t stop him. No one could bring themselves to visit him, it was too horrific to bear, you just couldn’t listen to him.
For a shocking second the world was silent again. You could hear the beating of the waves on the pier. A single cricket warily began its song.
The two hoodlums looked at each other.
Then the laugh began again.
Without a second to think about it, they ran.
They reached their car and took off into the night.
They both began to measure out their breath again. Using all their mental ability they started to calm down just a whit. Then Kerry turned on the radio to hear Duke Ellington’s show. “One O’Clock Jump” was at its mid-point. Then static drowned it out for a second and then was replaced by….the laugh.
A foot hit the brakes and the tires screamed. The foot pulled back and the car jumped to the right and slammed into a Police Car. The laugh stopped.
The Cops got out of their car and walked up to the steaming car that had stopped before them.
O’Brian stopped, and then took out his book, tapped on the window and waited for it to be rolled down. He waited for a long time, then saw is slowly lowered.
“Gentlemen,” O’Brian said, “I will be needing to see a license, if you please.”
First, they just looked at the officers. Then they looked at each other. Then they laughed.
The cops concluded that they must be drunk.
Dorsey said, “Please exit the vehicle.”
On unsteady legs they got out of the car and faced the police.
“You’re going to need to walk the straight line,” O’Brian suggested.
The pair continued to laugh until their bodies shook and they both fell to their knees. On their hands and knees on the asphalt they still laughed uproariously.
At first the pair of officers just looked on bemusedly.
The policemen then started checking their car, determined to find the booze that must be there.
What they found was enough firearms and ammunition to star another World War.
Then they opened the trunk.
The crooks were as surprised to see Peters’ body in there as the Police were. They had disposed of his body an hour ago. No one should have ever found it. The cement was still around his feet. The stoolie had come back.
The two were taken to the local lock up, still in shock.
Reports came in as they were being processed that arrests were happening all over their turf. Their gang was on the run, and not getting far.
Sitting in the cells the two uttered not a word.
Then it happened.
The laugh came back, just for a moment.
Not threatening this time. Triumphant.
Kerry began to sob, weeping like a frightened child.
Alphie leaned against the wall, like a once imposing building that had been felled by a storm.
He would list there until the Psychiatric aides picked him up and carried him away. He didn’t babble or rant or anything like that, just stared silently off into space.
© C. Wayne Owens