Wednesday Wonderings: Em’s story sharing time

GreenMillOn my old personal blog I shared a story that I had trouble finding a home: Love Thy Neighbour. I’ll repost it here some time soon. But for this week, I thought I’d share another story. It was one of those stories that all the elements just fell in to place. It didn’t end up in the place for which it was written, but it’s one of my favourites.

Here’s Asky and the Last Target.

Asky didn’t want to be here, not in this jazz club.  Sure, he’d heard it was good, very good in fact.  Possibly even the best around.  The Green Mill had top class acts, great booze and the fact that it was owned by Capone’s lieutenant gave it that wonderfully dangerous edge that all the young things were looking for.  But he had just come from The New Rendezvous and right now there was no greater rivalry going in Chicago than that of Capone and Moran.

He was waved through the door by the gangster-cum-bouncer and Asky felt his anger, forever butting at the underbelly of his self-control, pushed harder.  He was not happy with his boss, Zed.  So fricking demanding.  And so fricking nuts.  Zed gave Asky his tasks, set his targets and in return, didn’t kill Asky.  But this target was the last one.  No more.  Of course, Asky said that to himself every time.  But this time, he meant it.  Really, he did.

***********************

“Zed man, really.  Can you not even give me his name?  I’m so tired of these games you pull with me.”

“Asky.  It is as it has always been.  You do the task I set you, attend to the current situation and I let you live.  It’s a simple bargain.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Blah, blah, blah.  Where in Chicago am I supposed to find this one, hmm?  Anything more specific than Chicago?  It’s a big fucking city, you know.”

“Really, Asky.  Your language has become deplorable.  Do you need to use such words?  You are an educated man.  Show it once in a while.”

“Zed.  This is the last one, man.  I can’t keep doing it.  It kills something inside of me every time I have to.”

“Such exaggerations, Asky.  But better it kills some part of you than all of you, no?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Just sick of you threatening me all the time.  ‘Do it right, Asky.’  ‘Don’t stuff it up again, Asky.’  ‘Take care of it Asky and I won’t shove a lightning bolt up your arse.’”

“I haven’t made that threat in many a year, nor would I use such language.”

“Ah, but now you admit that you did threaten me?”

“I admit to nothing, Asky.  You are now bothering me.  Go, do what I’ve asked of you so I don’t have to follow up on any threat.  Well, to you, anyway.”

So now, Asky was following up his last target.  He had to be.  Couldn’t keep doing it, uh, uh, no fricking way.

He’d arrived in Chicago a week ago.  Long enough to pick up the clues left for him by Zed.  He got a general area, then a club, then finally a name.  And now, having picked up the scent of his prey, followed him from one jazz club to another.

***********************

He remembered the first time Zed had approached him with a target.

“Asky, I have a task for you.”

“Zed?  A task?  What’s the catch?”

“Why must there be a, what do you call it, a catch?”

“Zed, I know you.  Do you remember that time you wanted that chick, oh, what was her name, and your lovely wife nearly caught you …”

“Yes, yes, Asky.  I was there, I do remember.  That was an unfortunate, and solitary, incident.  There is no, uh, catch.  Simply, you do this thing for me, and I let you live.”

“You let me live?  You mean you don’t kill me.  Well, there’s the catch.  I do what you want or you will kill me.  That’s one helluva catch Zed.”

“That was the deal we made.”

“I know that Zed.  Doesn’t mean I have to like though, right?”

“You will do this, Asky.”

“Well, of course I will Zed.  What bloody choice have you given me?  None, that’s what.  So, what’s the task?”

“I have someone that you need to use your special skills on.”

Asky sighed.  “Really?  I thought you told me not to do that any more?  Have you changed your mind?”

“No, Asky.  I have not changed my mind about you using them on your own.  I am merely directing your talent in a more constructive manner.”

“I was always constructive, Zed.  Just because it wasn’t what you wanted me to do doesn’t mean it wasn’t constructive.”

“Yes, Asky.  You are a very clever man.  Now be smart too and do what I say.”

“OK, Zed.  I get it.  What am I doing?”

“First, go to Athens.”

And that was the start of it.  Asky travelled all over the world performing jobs for Zed.  They were all pretty much the same.  Zed gave him a target, made each one a game that Asky didn’t find fun at all, he used some or all of his special skills and then got to go back to his own life.

***********************

Asky now had his target.  It was some singer guy, didn’t really do it for Asky, he preferred Ella or Gershwin, but he seemed to be important to quite a few people.  Joe, his name was.  Joe E.  Lewis.  Asky had been trailing him for a few days and had spent most of the time at The Green Mill.  He had met Danny Cohen, owner of The Green Mill and managed to get himself hired to work there.  He was hoping that meant that he would get a chance to complete his job for Zed before too long.  But now, Asky had just followed Lewis from The New Rendezvous to the Green Mill, and that was not good.  In the week he’d been in Chicago, he’d picked up enough local gossip to know that the rivalry between Capone and Bugs Moran was getting pretty deadly, and if Lewis was working up some kinda bidding war between the two, well, Asky knew he didn’t want to be stuck in between those two killers.

Asky wanted a drink and after getting a whisky from the under the table bar, he eyed off one of those green velvet booths by the back wall that was filled with those young things, the flappers and the men getting rich off booze sales.  Damn he wanted to be there, having fun, getting happy and touchy, but decided to grab a table near the front.  He needed to keep a close eye on his target.  He needed to work out the time frame.  How long did Zed expect him to stay in Chicago?  Zed had given Asky no specific time to complete the job, as he sometimes did.  This time, no, just go to Chicago, Asky.  Follow my clues, Asky.  Have a few drinks and do what I’ve asked of you, Asky.

Lewis was on stage now.  His singing was alright, but he was damn funny.  Dion would’ve loved him if he’d had the chance to come to Chicago.  Asky sat, drinking his reasonably tasty whiskey that cost more than his tie had.  He was taking in his surroundings without really noticing anything.  His focus had to be Lewis.  A few more songs, a few more jokes and a lot more whiskey saw Asky through to the end of Lewis’ set.  It took a lot of booze for Asky to feel any effect; all those drinking sessions with Dion had seen Asky become a proficient drinker.  So when he saw Jack ‘Machine Gun’ McGurn follow Lewis through to the back of the club, he was certainly still coherent enough to tag onto the back of the group.  Using one of his special skills – that of blending in so much he appeared almost invisible – Asky got himself into the dressing room where Lewis was surrounded by McGurn and three of his goons.

“This is how it’s goin’ to be, ok, Joe?  You are goin’ to sign this contract and you are goin’ to stay here at the Green Mill until I say you can go.  Gotit?”

McGurn was waving a piece of paper in front of Lewis’ face and punctuated his words by slapping the paper with the back of his hand.

Lewis was obviously not too afraid of him because he stepped up to McGurn and looked him straight in his face.  “Stupid man, be afraid,” thought Asky.

“I ain’t signing no paper, Mr McGurn.  You can’t make me sign no paper.”

“Boys, show him what we can do to make him sign.”

The goons stepped forward and looked to be about to break his hands.  Asky had to stop this before it ruined his own job.  He fingered the herbs in his pocket like a rosary bead.

“Hey, don’t break his hands, man.  They’re part of his act.  Just break a few fingers, he doesn’t need them as much,” Asky said as he stepped forward with his arms open to show that he was unarmed.

“Who the hell are you?  How the hell did you get in here?”

Ah, the keen observations of a moron.  Asky hadn’t missed this at all.

“I’m Jones.  The new guy.  Cohen told me to come find you.”

“Oh, Danny said that?  Ok, fine.  Now, why the hell shouldn’t I break his hands?”

Asky sighed inside.  Really.  Zed sent him up against these idiots?  One mention of the boss’ name and he was in.

“Because he uses his hands for his jokes?  You know, making those signs and stuff?  How’s he going to make money for you if he can’t do his job?”

“Good point.  Just break a few of his fingers, boys.”

Asky winced as he heard the sound of bones breaking, and held his breath against the screams of Lewis as his two index fingers became right angles to his hands.

“Excellent job, boys.  I think we’ve made our point, no?”

“Yeah, boss.  I think he’ll sign now.”

Asky shook his head.  Seriously, these guys were so stupid.

“He can’t sign anything now, his fingers are broken.”

He looked up to blank stares on the three goons’ and McGurn’s face.

“He can’t hold a pen.”

Understanding bloomed across the faces like a wave of stupidity and Asky took another risk.  He walked over to the white-faced Lewis and gingerly held his hands to look at the damage.

“I’ll take him to the hospital to get them set.”

“No, no hospitals.  They ask too many damn questions.”

Asky internally yelled at Zed, “How many of my damn special skills are you going to make me use here?”

“I have some medical training.  I could probably set them for you but I’ll need some supplies,” Asky said, standing up and facing McGurn.

“You got it.  Danny did alright, getting you to join us.  I’ll send some stuff back in.”

McGurn left the room with his goons and left Asky alone with Lewis.

Lewis had gone a wonderful shade of white.  He was gasping with pain as he asked, “Why …  break …  fingers?  Need …  too.”

“I know, man.  But I figured if I could get them to just do some fingers, you could still recover.  Hands tend to screw things up, I know.”

Asky looked at his own hands, broken by Zed a long time ago when he’d tried to refuse a job.  It had taken a long time for them to heal, and even longer for him to regain his proficiency.  His hands were his life, he relied on them for so many things, and Zed knew that.  Hence the broken hands.  And no more refusals.

The medical supplies were brought in quickly, making Asky suspect that fixing up broken and battered bodies was something that happened fairly often to McGurn and his goons.

“I’m going to have to set these bones before I can bandage them up.”

“Ok.”

“It’s going to hurt.  A lot.  But then it should feel a bit better.”

Asky worked on Lewis’ fingers for a while.  He had treated broken bones for many years, not the least his own, but that made it no less difficult.  He had to straighten bones, move pieces back to their correct spots, and make sure no arteries were blocked, needing the blood to be flowing properly for them to recover.  He worked steadily, concentrating solely on Lewis’ fingers.  He pulled some herbs from his pocket and wrapped them in the bandages that he put on.

“What’s that?”

Asky startled, forgetting that Lewis was even in the room despite his fingers being in his hands.

“What’s what?”

“Those things you put in the bandages?  Are they poisonous?”

“Just a little herb to make your fingers a bit numb.  Help the pain.”  At least, that’s what Asky was telling him.  He checked the bandages, made sure they weren’t too tight.  Satisfied, he stood up and looked at Lewis.

“Can you get home?”

“Not sure.  Can you grab my things?”

Asky didn’t want this.  He had found his target.  He even liked him.  Now he’d helped him and got in with McGurn.  Was this Zed’s plan all along?

“Yeah, alright.”

***********************

The next night saw Asky back at The Green Mill.  This time he wasn’t even stopped at the door as McGurn saw him and grinned, motioning dramatically for him to come in.

“Jones!  So glad you’re here tonight.  Cohen has given us a job to do in the morning.  You’re in.”

Great!  A job with McGurn.  A job for Zed.  Were the jobs about to coincide?  Was this the task Zed had sent him here for?

“Yeah, man.  Whatever.”

“Good, good!  Meet me at the Commonwealth Hotel tomorrow morning at 10am.  Gotit?”

“Yeah, man.  I”ve got it.  Commonwealth Hotel.  10am.  Do I need to bring anything?”

“Nuh, I’ve got that all sorted, cool?  Just bring that smart mouth of yours and those fixing hands, just in case.”

McGurn smiled again, and this time it was like a pirhana’s – all mouth and teeth, like it’s just seen a meaty morsel in the water.

The Commonwealth Hotel was where he had delivered the injured Lewis to last night.  Tomorrow morning he would take care of Lewis for Zed and then beg to be released from his contract.

***********************

This was it.  The last job for Zed.  One that was happening to a good, if greedy guy.  But personal feelings had no place in this, in his work.  Asky had to just do the jobs, or be killed.  He knew his place, knew his work but that still didn’t make it any less traumatic each time he had to do it.

He was early, hovering around the entrance of the Hotel well before 9.30.  He was nervous, and that was unlike him.  The thought that this could be the last one was making him jumpy.  So when McGurn thumped him on the back, he not only startled from the meaty thump, but from the fact that he didn’t hear them pull up.

“Ready, Jones?”

“Yeah, man.  I’m ready.”

Asky looked around and noticed that McGurn and his goons had billyclubs and knives on them.

“Don’t I get a club, Jack?”

“Nah, man.  We’ll take care of that.  You just clean up after us, ‘kay?”

“I ain’t no doctor man.  If you’re planning something major, I can’t do much apart from set some bones.”  Sure Asky was lying, but McGurn didn’t need to know that.

“Jones, don’t worry.  We’re just beating him up some.  He didn’t sign you know.  Even after breaking his fingers.  The worm even had the balls to sign with The New Rendezvous.”

“Hey Jack, thought he couldn’t sign with broken fingers?”

“Yes, Jones.  How did that happen?” McGurn turned to Asky and a cold rage was already apparent on his face.

“Maybe he could hold it with them set, how the hell do I know?”  Asky so didn’t want to be on the end of a McGurn hit.  Asky’d heard the stories about how McGurn had gone after the men who’d killed his father, with a cold-bloodedness that was now obviously building in  him.  Asky could recover quite well on his own, but didn’t want any interference in his own job for Zed.

McGurn spat on the ground as he said “Bloody Moran.”

Asky followed the pack of goons up to the 10th floor where Lewis lived.  He wanted to phone up or something, just to give him some chance of getting away.  But then, that would defeat the purpose of him even being there.

Lewis opened the door.  His face fell when he realised that it wasn’t just McGurn and he stammered to Asky,

“What’s going on?  You’re too late.  I signed with The New Redezvous yesterday.”

“We know you signed, Joe.  It’s a real shame.  You coulda been a star if you’d stayed with me.  Danny and I are real unhappy.  So, we’re going to have to convince you to stay, no?”

McGurn was pacing back and forth in front of Lewis, using his club to punctuate his sentences.

“How’re going to do that?  You already broke my fingers.”

“Ah, don’t ask Joe.  Just take it, ‘kay?”

Asky stood by as McGurn and his goons attacked Lewis.  They beat him, broke his arms, his legs.  But then McGurn seemed to lose control part way through.  He pushed the goons away, saying “Mine, he’s mine.”

He then pulled out his knife and knelt before the unconscious Lewis.

“You wanna leave me, Joe?  Let’s see how you sing with your tongue out!”

McGurn then sliced part of Lewis’ tongue before slitting his throat, from ear to ear.

“Hey boss, looks like he’s smiling now!”

Asky shook his head at the slaughter.  How was he supposed to do anything now?

“Jones, sorry.  Not much there for you to fix this time.  Got a bit carried away – Danny ain’t goin’ to be happy.”

“Hey, man, he deserved it, right?  Fancy trying to leave you, Jack!” Asky was disgusted with McGurn but had to pretend like it was all ok.

“Right, right!  Let’s get outta here before the cops come!”

“Cops!” laughed the goons as a chorus.

Asky knew no police would arrive for this.  Capone owned half, Moran the other half.

The goons were slapping each other on the back and low fiving in the stairwell on the way down, McGurn still grinning like a pirhana.

“You cool, Jones?  I mean, all that work you did on his hands the other night, and now he’s dead?”

“Yeah, yeah, no probs man.  I’m just a bit bummed I didn’t get a kick in or something.”

“Hey, maybe next time, Jones.”

At the entrance to the hotel, Asky made as if he was walking home before being stopped by McGurn.

“Need a lift or something Jones?”

“Nah man.  I’m fine.  Walk’ll clear my head, you know?”

“See you tonight then?  At the Lounge?”

“Sure.  See you tonight.”

As soon as the car carrying the goons and McGurn left, Asky made sure no-one else was around and transported himself directly into Lewis’ room.  He was already behind schedule.  Lewis was dead, his blood forming an abstract portrait on the carpet.

He quickly knelt down in front of Lewis’ mangled throat.  He pulled out of his pocket the rest of his herbs.  He placed some on Lewis‘ heart, some on his head and the rest he packed into the wound.  He held out his hands, using his special skills that were so valued by Zed, and brought Lewis back from the dead.  He couldn’t replace the bit of tongue that McGurn had taken, but he healed the breaks, removed the swelling and was about to start on the throat wound when he was interrupted by yelling in the hallway.

“I swear officer, I heard somethin’ bad happening in there to poor Joe.  Hurry please!”

Asky looked at Lewis lying on the ground.  He was breathing, he was healing, but his throat was still gaping.  He had to leave, so pushed a pack of the healing herbs into Lewis’ hand, hoping that when he regained consciousness, he’d remember what Asky had done for his fingers and wrap them into his bandages.

“Ok, I’m done.  I’m out of here.”

***********************

“Asky, well done.”

“Yeah, yeah, Zed man.  He’s alive.  I didn’t get to completely heal him though.”

“Don’t worry about that, Asky.  He’ll heal enough to regain his voice and become an even bigger star than McGurn could have made him.”

“Yeah?  Good for him.  So, are we done?  Can that be it?”

“Asclepius, you know the answer to that.”

“Zeus, man.  Please.  I’m so tired.  I just don’t think I can raise any more people from the dead.”

“Asky.  You may be the God of Medicine, but that was the deal we made. When you defied the human life cycle by raising the dead and forcing me to kill you, you brought yourself back from the dead.  I let you stay alive in exchange for saving those who should have died.”

“Husband, dearest, can’t you end the deal?  He just wants to rest.”  Hera placed a hand on Zeus, hoping to win some favour for Asclepius.

“No.  I don’t think so, Hera.  How do I know he won’t bring himself back again?”

“Zeus.  My king.  I just want to live out the rest of my life.  I don’t want to raise any more people, I don’t want you to kill me.  I just want to be left alone.”

“Asky, we made a deal.  You don’t get to change the deal.  That is all.  Please leave now.”

Asky knew it was no good to beg now.  He had to wait.  Another time, another person to save, and then maybe Zeus will let him live his own life again.  Let him die when he is supposed to, not be at the mercy of the God of all Gods.  Maybe.

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