My name is Waxy; and the map to my life is on my face, bodyand hands: a patchwork of scars and badly healed fractures. I first got pinched when I was eleven; stealing fruit from the back of cart vendors as they moved through the neighbourhood and then selling it on for a dime a piece. It was as honest as work as I could get and when you’re born into poverty; right and wrong don’t factor in life too much.
That is, unless it’s the right way and wrong way. In the world I grew up in, wrong was being involved with the State, cops; education, whatever. They were the enemy and anyone who collaborated with them was equally despised in turn. The officials of our fair city had never cared for us, variously patronizing us with their “charity” or persecuting us for who we were.
Hammerstock was a mostly industrial town, plenty of freightage companies and excavators; stonemasons and lumber yards. Maybe there are other different types of industries and businesses around; but having never stolen from them for profit; I couldn’t rightly say.
The town wasn’t any big deal, nothing too fancy or elegant about it. To be honest; apart from the regional police HQ and the neo-classical façade of the City Hall; there was very little in the way of amenities or local landmarks that would entice or encourage a visitor to stay. That is of course; if we are focusing solely on legitimate Joes with legitimate interests.
You see; Hammerstock had an open secret: it was the vice capitol of the entire state. Here, illicit booze or moonshine (although I never called it that; a fucking hick word if you asked me) flowed through the city like some great, stinking river. More than that; cathouses littered the city, through the slums of the industrial district to the upmarket Uptown region. All tastes and incomes covered; with well-heeled city executive types mixing it with the hoods of the docks, leaving for curious pairings and business relationships.
It was precisely because of this roaring trade in illicit goods and services that I now found myself caught in the midst of a balmy autumn night. I curled up the collar of coat to fend off the biting cold that was on the wind, lighting a cigarette when I had finished and taking a moment to reflect on my surroundings.
I was outside a carpet store on Seminary Street; which to all intents and purposes, seemed to nothing more or less than what it professed to be. With slightly grimy windows, a store sign that had seen better days and a door that squeaked in objection when opened, who would have thought that this was one of the city’s most infamous brothels?
It wasn’t the brothel itself that was so sinister but rather; the proprietor of it. Francis “Rhino” Kaplan was a vicious, sadistic and brutal mobster; although his moniker did little justice to his cruelty. I should know: he had tortured me once upon a time over a shipment of beer and whisky that had vanished. The thought of that episode of my life brought a chill to my spine. I had to let a Chinaman take over the management of my own business interests; namely a numbers racket operative in the back of a butchers whilst I healed up. Having a crowbar taken to your ribs will do that to you.
The Rhino quip had come from some smart-ass crime reporter within the city; on the basis that whilst Frankie always charged a lot, and indeed had been charged a lot; nothing could ever stick. He had also been shot with a Thompson sub-machine gun at point blank range and managed to survive. The perceived tough skin served as the inspiration for this reporter to then pen a frankly bizarre nickname.
How he managed to survive, I do not fucking know and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. That sort of shit is bordering on black magic and as far as he was concerned, I could damn near believe anything.
Of course; no-one ever dared use the nickname to his face. No-one. The next day after the newspaper article was published and circulated around the town; that same news reporter found himself gunned down on the sidewalk as some guy stepped out a sedan and then blasted him. As the reporter laid there, his vital essence oozing out of him; the shooter carefully left a meticulously rolled up copy of the same article in his mouth.
Inhaling a deep breath to steady my already jangled nerves, I closed my eyes and pushed the door open and in so doing so, let the cold air in and my hope out.
The first thing to greet me was Leon, one of the various well-muscled and physically imposing guys scattered throughout the entire building, both for the “front” of the business as well as the cathouse downstairs. I could see that he had purchased himself a new suit; a fact which in normal circumstances and of any other person, would have little, if indeed any; significant value.
However, I knew Leon and he was a mean guy. Mean with money and with a bat too; his preferred tool of persuasion. No, Leon was no wordsmith but by Christ; his Louisville slugger do most of the work for him. Rather than buying glass jars to store booze in, Leon would rather steal them.
I took a step forward, silently praying that this grotesque and squat troll would leave me be, preferably unmolested and unaddressed. Sadly, it seemed that Lady Luck was either mocking me or just giving me the silent treatment.
A meaty hand, nearly the size of my head (or so it seemed) grabbed my arm and held me firmly in place.
Already I could feel the sweat lashing off my forehead. I knew I shouldn’t have taken that dope before I came here; but how else was I supposed to take the dull ache of fear and panic that was quickly threatening to engulf me? Christ. “Da Boss wanna know; why yo heah”
rumbled the golem.
I strained my ears to decipher whatever semblance of speech that this was supposed to be, adopting a seemingly nonchalant air to conceal my increasing unease. “I need to speak with him.”
Seemingly satisfied with this brief explanation, Leon simply nodded and sat back down. The badly concealed .45 Colt nestled inside his new linen jacket was not lost on me; and I thanked whatever gods were out there that this encounter had passed relatively painlessly. With a furtive glance at Leon, who had already folded his hands and had proceeded to stare vacantly into the distance; I pushed open the door that would lead me downstairs.
As I gingerly descended the stairs I could hear the various noises that are typical and indicative of brothels; the animalistic grunting, the eerily high-pitched laughter that managed to sound frightening, frightened and like a scream at the time and of course; the various odours. Most pungent of all was the homebrewed beer that would be kept in a closely guarded storeroom, going for a dollar a glass, although the stench of sweat was not too far behind.
I found Rhino very quickly, an accomplishment which owed more to the fact that he was situated in the middle of the basement rather than my path-finding capabilities. This seemed eloquently appropriate for Rhino; for he seemed to be at the centre of everything: a malignant black hole that sucked everything into his sphere of consciousness.
Rhino wasn’t exactly what you would expect of your typical gangster. He was tall for starters; a bespectacled, owlish looking face; the crown of some redskin tribe’s totem pole; with a grim expression to cover it. His lips were a ruby red; so crimson that you couldn’t help but wonder inwardly if perhaps he had lapped at the carcass of some small animal. He had white, jagged teeth; curiously pristine for a man of his background would occasionally reveal themselves only to hide away just as quickly as they appeared.
So mesmerized was I by his appearance that it took me a few moments to realize that he was actually addressing me directly. “I said; how can I help you?”
You cut the tension with a knife. I always used to think that was a total crock of shit but now….standing here with this man, I was a true believer. I swallowed deeply; trying to look tougher than I felt and once I felt that my nerves were under control, I responded. “We gotta do something about this new FBI director. He and his fucking G-man goon squad are marching right through us. Takings are down, shipments are getting seized and now even our friends in the police department are abandoning ship. It’s bad for business, and it’s bad for us.”
Actually; it was a lot worse than that. At present, I had managed to acquire the “support” of three police lieutenants within the city; Jonas Davenport for the Adlington area, a severely dilapidated part of town that catered towards the lower end of the income bracket. It was rainbow city over there; and not a white face to be seen. Davenport; himself a devout Baptist was also a fiend when it came to dice games, and so the $200 a week I was paying him went a long way to defraying his gambling debts.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t returning my calls, and to date had been unable to arrange a meeting with him for over three weeks now. Either he had fully embraced god or more than likely; this new FBI Director was turning up the heat.
The story was pretty similar for the other two, and a friend in the courthouse had advised me that the DA had even been asked to prepare a skeletal corruption case against them. This Director, this bow-tie wearing motherfucker; was making life tough for us all.
He had already managed to indict my boss, Jonah “Lights Out” Lebowski, and had him incarcerated. Lights Out was a legend among us bootleggers; the Wild Bill Hicock of Prohibition. The son of a Dutch sign writer and his alcoholic beau; he got his name for his boxing career and his knockout punches and managed to establish himself as the leading kingpin of this city.
I missed him. I missed him a lot. It had been three years already since he had been put inside, and most of his gang had either deserted, been executed by rivals or simply got pinched alongside with him. I would go and visit him, but, what was the point? Anyway, I was fucking his wife.
Rhino inhaled deeply. “These are tough times. Tough times.”
I remained silent, in the event that perhaps he had more to offer. “You know the story of railroads? They managed to connect most of the country together; East coast to West; overcoming any type of difficult terrain.”
I nodded in confused acquiescence. “The engineers and construction workers; they found a real problem though. What about the mountains, the hills, the rivers and the gullies? Money was limited for these projects; so what were they going to do, add another 100 miles of track to move around?”
I shrugged. Jesus, if this was an analogy, I hoped to Christ he’d made his point already. “So what did these guys do? Huh? Build more track?”
He stared at me. “Huh?”
I humoured him. “No Mr. Kaplan.” “You’re goddamn right. So what did they do? They used dynamite. They blasted a whole through the obstacle, and then they tunneled right through it. And then, my friend; business continued. In some cases; it flourished.”
His sermon delivered, he cleared his throat and looked oddly proud of himself. I merely stared in stony faced bewilderment.
His eyes locked into mines. “Kid, what the fuck you waiting for?”
Without warning he turned on his heel and proceeded to walk away; no doubt to return to the warmth of his office. A few steps away from me, he said, almost as an aside: “I’ll send Leon and some of the other boys to give you a hand. They’ll bring the equipment you’ll need.”
At this I groaned inwardly. I had done a stint as a combat sapper in the army; so I had a working knowledge of firearms, combat tactics and most crucially, explosives. Big scary weapons didn’t concern me so much as inexperienced, trigger happy idiots with said weapons did and that, THAT, was precisely what Rhino was giving me. The last thing I needed was for me to spearhead some half-assed ambush upon the denizens of law and order; only to be supported by yokels who only knew the business end of a shotgun because they could stick a few fingers in there.
At best, I would find myself caught up in a sustained firefight with a squadron which would have limited experience and even less morale; and would be as liable to panic as they would to pull the trigger (assuming that they aimed even right). At worst; I could get severely injured or worse; failing that, a cell right beside Lights Out.
In short, I was fucked.
I returned to the pawnbrokers that I used as my makeshift office and hideout; to gather my thoughts and decide upon the best course of action. If I went along with Rhinos’ plan and tried to assassinate the Director; there would be no way of predicting the consequences that would arise. That said, the one thing that was for sure was that the hornets’ nest that was the G-men would surely carry on their stings, and with increasing venom.
To be honest, I wasn’t hugely concerned with the involvement of the cops. The Director had been breathing down their necks from day one; accurately accusing them of being incompetent, corrupt and generally unworthy of trust. Worse than that, he had enforced a shoot to kill policy that they were required to follow to the letter; meaning that any suspected mobster or bootlegger was fair game. Although adherence to this policy was sporadic and piecemeal, the mere threat of it still hung in the air like the sword of Damocles for us all. The cops didn’t much relish having to gun us down, and were mightily pissed at being told what to do.
What other players were on the chessboard?
Hugo “Goose” Zimmerman, also known as the Beer Baron was one of the biggest bootlegger brewers in the city; with an iron grip on the industrial district, and easy access to the docks. This provided him with easy access to plenty of raw muscle from the stevedores and dockworkers that littered the pier, along with opportunities to export and import weapons and other salient inventory. I was too small-time to even register on his radar and so had avoided any conflict with him or his army on that basis alone.
Given his connections within the transport infrastructure within the city (Goose also happened to control many of the unions within the city including train drivers and teamsters) I would want to leave the city only as a means of last resort. In this equation, he was a wildcard and I simply didn’t have enough chips to stay in the game without an ace in the hole. That said, if I wanted to strike out on my own and get access to some respectable firepower, then I would have to overcome my reservations.
The prospect of blackmailing the Mayor had crossed my mind. Access to such a high-ranking individual would provide me with a significant edge over the proceedings, effectively nullifying the influence and power that Rhino had managed to acquire over the years. If I could outmaneuver Rhino, then I would be higher up on the food chain than him and be able to muscle him out. Outlandish ideas of gunning down public officials, irrespective of how much of a pain in the ass they may happen to be; would no longer be the norm.
However, all I had managed to secure in my career as a bootlegger was the support of a few delinquent gambler cops, and whose loyalty really was weighed in the thickness of the brown envelope they received.
Having the Mayor on the payroll would certainly provide me with some much needed breathing space, serving as an effective beard against prying eyes and allowing me to manipulate things from behind the scenes. Of course, like anything else in life; it wasn’t quite as simple as that. If it were, I wouldn’t have found myself in the current predicament that I now found myself in.
Anyone who tells you that the army is a noble enterprise, a graceful and dignified body that incorporates notions of loyalty, teamwork and middle class people are either gravely misinformed or pathological liars. It’s a boot camp from start to finish and the people who typically find themselves drafted into it are those who were too dumb to finish school, or who couldn’t toe the line. The recruiters know us grunts are too dumb to ask for more than we are paid for, especially given the danger that we find ourselves in.
It is precisely for the reasons of poor economic equality, limited amenities and access to appropriately skilled jobs that the federal government had decided in its infinite stupidity to deploy an Army base right here within Hammerstock. When it was first opened in 1902, the newspapers heralded it as the salvation of the city; a means of allowing a boost to the local economy.
Bullshit. It was a way of getting young stupid toughs off the streets, and forwarding the interests of people more powerful than they could ever even dream of.
Army life is no life at all. You have prolonged bouts of coma-inducing boredom punctuated with routine, drill and regimented actions that have to be followed precisely. The pay sucks, and you find that most of the creature comforts that you enjoyed once upon a time are swiftly taken away from you. Indeed, a running joke among us grunts is that when the Volstead Act was introduced to prohibit the sale, distribution and production of alcohol, it didn’t affect us: we had been forced into abstinence for as long as we could remember.
It was against this backdrop of frustrated individuals, limited opportunity to express their individuality and blocked access to basic comforts that the mobsters of Hammerstock seized their opportunity, as they recognized a rich new source of muscle for their operations. At first, it was simply the disciplinary cases and those who were demobbed that were snapped up by the local crime lords. However, as word spread of the money to be made and the excitement on offer; serving soldiers joined in droves.
Unfortunately, mobsters by and large, do not like to share and Matthew “Babyface” LeBrun decided that it was he, and he alone that would be controlling this wonderful new resource. Several drive-by shootings, car bombs and assaults later and he had made his point firmly. He paid the Colonel of the Hammerstock Barracks, Colonel Leonard Schultz, a hefty commission to keep his men in line. Whether out of fear, money, loyalty or all three; the men of the barracks followed the word of their commanding officer to the letter.
Why was this significant?
City Hall, the Police HQ and the Barracks were all located to the north of the city, with plenty of the soldiers regularly on patrol, both on foot and within armoured personnel carriers. Most heavily concentrated around the barracks, they dispersed themselves throughout the key points within the district.
Therefore, City Hall and the bridges leading to the area were heavily guarded. There was absolutely no way I could engage the soldiers in a firefight and if truth be told, I wouldn’t want to anyway, it just didn’t feel right. My sentimentality may well be my downfall, but at least I have standards.
LeBrun and his men were able to slip in and out of the area with impunity, as he made sure that any and all vehicles under the usage of his outfit would be an appropriate colour for the day. Furthermore, both the cops and the army boys had a list of the license plates of the vehicles that were associated with him meaning that the prospects of pulling a Trojan horse act were fairly slim. Given the sheer velocity of those light machine gun turrets; I’d be lucky to get a puff of my cigarette before being cut in half by the intercepting fire. This would be even before I had opened the car door.
Fiercely territorial and possessive with his turf, LeBrun despised any sort of threat to his power and control and so I had made a point of ensuring our business interests did not ever conflict or even overlap. I had had enough of this strategizing.
I rubbed my temples, desperately trying to get rid of the pounding migraine that was steadily increasing in intensity and tempo. I went to my safe, pulled out a bottle of whisky; and poured myself a good measure. Downing it in one swift gulp, I proceeded to help myself to three more.
Already I could feel the fire in my belly, that curiously intimate and welcoming sensation. In a pensive mood, I peered into the bottle; studying my reflection. Mid 20’s and already my face was beginning to sag and wrinkle, as if the sins of my life were etched on my face. My brown hair was cut into a neat side parting; a souvenir from my army days, my green eyes perpetually world-weary and heavy.
I tossed the bottle to one side; savagely relishing as it shattered against the oak door. My mind was still restless, seething with the possibilities, options, risks and choices that laid ahead of me. I needed something to soothe my troubled mind and soul, some measure of oblivion regardless of how fleeting it may happen to be.
I contemplated taking another hit of dope, then decided against it. After the last time, I felt queasy to my joints for days afterwards. Either the Chinaman had sold me junk or I was allergic; although Xiao had never let me down before. Indeed, he was probably the closest thing I had to a friend.
When things were as bad as this, there was only one cure for my blues: Molly. Sure, she was a hooker but; I wasn’t complaining, and hey; isn’t that what we guys pay the whores for; to leave at the end of it?
I shouted on Xiao; and closed my eyes. Before I had even had time to draw breath, he had appeared as if by magic. “You call me boss?”
Impeccably dressed in a pinstripe suit and bowler; he looked every inch the Westernized ideal of a successful businessman. Which if truth be told, he was; especially after I had gifted him his own casino. Yeah, Xiao was alright. I wondered how the casino was faring, as I had never stepped foot in the place when I handed it over to Xiao. Initially, it was mines; as I had attempted to diversify my business interests beyond the somewhat volatile profits to be made from bootlegging.
Given the stalwart nature of the support that Xiao had provided me with over the years, I thought that he deserved some goodwill and fortune. For all intents and purposes, to the competition at least; I still owned the place. That was an arrangement Xiao was happy with, he got the full benefit of the revenue generated from the place and didn’t need to worry about shakedown artists or cops looking for a payout. “Yeah Xiao, go fetch me Molly.”
I opened my eyes to see him still standing there at the door with a somewhat curious expression on his face. It seemed to be concern desperately trying to disguise itself as nonchalance. I appreciated his loyalty. “Boss, you ok?”
I dismissed his concerns with a regality and cockiness I did not feel at all, waving my hand imperiously in impatience. With a slight bow he turned, as dignified as any evangelist preacher at the sermon, and elegantly walked away.
I closed my eyes, and eventually managed to drift away into sleep. Suddenly, I was rudely awakened by some strong fingers shaking me gently.
I murmured as I came to. Through bleary eyes; saw it was Xiao. “She here. Molly. I go.”
It had been a long, tiring day and for now; I just wanted some physical comfort.
I beckoned Molly over; her raven black, shoulder length hair tied back in a loose ponytail. Her mesmerizing green eyes; as bright as emeralds and just as precious seemed to pull you in, allowing you to feel as if you could perhaps drown in them if you were not cautious.
The pinkness of her mouth aroused me; and when she licked her lips in an unconscious act of innocent eroticism I found myself stirring unintentionally. I was struck by the porcelain like sheen of her skin, a milky white colour that managed to be on the right side of pale. Placing her hands on my shoulders; she eased herself onto my lap staring into my eyes whilst doing so.
With a mischievous expression on her face, she quickly shot her hand upwards and knocked my crumpled fedora onto the floor. Like me, it had seen better days. I had more than enough cash to go buy a new one, several hundred if I was so inclined, but damn if that hat didn’t mean something to me. “Hey Waxy”
she giggled. It always amused her to call me that, even after several years of us knowing one another. She leant into me and rewarded my stoicism with a deep, lingering kiss on the lips. I could taste the aniseed mouthwash she had used. “Let me get you out of those clothes.”
With that invitation duly extended, I complied and stood up in order to better enable her to disrobe me.
She managed the somewhat impressive feat of managing to get my clothes off in the shortest timeframe possible whilst also ensuring that they weren’t wrinkled or creased in the melee. Herself, now entirely naked; was spread across my desk; her pert little ass invitingly placed in the air. I give it a playful spank, relishing the meaty thud that ensued, and enjoying the rosy pink hue that spread across it. “Ohhhhh. Do it again”
I dutifully complied, making sure to give her just light flicks of my wrist. She moaned and squealed in pleasured surprise. I gave her cheeks a loving rub, and then gently parted her thighs so that I could plunge myself into her.
I gasped at her warm tightness, relishing each and every thrust and plunge. As I threw myself into her, over and over again; I could feel my woes and worries melt away in a dreamy cloud of blissful ignorance and contentment. I gripped onto her shoulders; desperately looking for some good grip whilst I rode her.
Finally I could handle it no more and, feeling myself about to ejaculate; cried out in a near shriek of ecstasy.
When it was finished and we had both gotten dressed once again; I handed her the usual fee.
She winked at me. “After that performance sugar? This one is on the house.”
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