It was the fourth night and
Illio was about to die!
But at least he'd had those
last four days of life. He'd been due to die four days ago,
when he had been unable to raise the money he owed to Vedo.
Then, at the last moment, he had received a loan from Robbo.
Illio could still bear the lispy, hair-lipped freak mumbling,
"You got four nights to pay!" and his mouthpiece asking, "Is
that clear enough?" Clear enough? Hell, what could be any
Four nights! Christ! How
was he supposed to raise $200,000 in so little time? But at
least he had bought four extra days of life.
A small, fair-haired man,
forty-three years of age, Illio was often taken for a man ten
years younger. At the moment though he could easily have been
mistaken for a man of sixty.
As he lay on his back on the
lumpy cot, the only piece of furniture in the single-room
apartment, his eyes roved slowly around the dirty,
jaundice-yellow walls. His breath came in short, sharp gulps,
like a drowning man fighting for air.
Illio glanced at the electric
clock upon the wall across the room: it showed
6:30. He would have to leave within an hour.
The appointment was for 8:00 p.m.
That was if he decided to keep
Not that there was any real
point in trying to run. Robbo had contacts everywhere and would
hunt him down and kill him like a dog. If he were lucky and
somehow managed to stay free for a while, it would be at a price.
The price of fear. Never being able to stop running, looking
back over his shoulder, or being afraid of his own shadow.
Never being able to settle down and make a life for himself, or
start a relationship with a woman for fear she might slow him
down, might be able to be used against him, might even be on
No, that wasn't living, it
was...What did they say in the old horror movies? Undead?
Yes, that's what it would be: undead. But nothing more than
So Illio prepared to leave for
his appointment with death. He drank his thirteenth cup of
coffee for the day, went to the toilet for the eleventh time,
then strapped the .357 magnum revolver to his left shoulder,
before putting on his coat.
"Four nights!" he grumbled.
"Who in their right mind would say four nights? Only Robbo!
No one else! Anyone else would have said four days! But not
that bloody mumbling Marlon Brando-clone!"
Now it was the fourth night and
Illio could not pay up. But by God he'd come close. After
four days of intense wheeling and dealing he had scraped together
$180,000. Only $20,000 short of his target.
So he was going to die over a
The irony of it was that in
less than a week Illio had a million dollars coming in from the
land deal -- or at least his estate did now. That was why he'd
borrowed the money from Vedo in the first place. He'd needed a
half a million dollars for the deal, but had only had $360,000
and it had been a strictly cash up front deal.
The land deal had turned
out even better than Illio had hoped for. So now he had a cool
million coming in, unfortunately it would turn up too late to
save his life. 'But if I'm going to die,' thought Illio, 'so is
that stinkin' lispy freak!'
At 7:30 p.m. Illio left the small apartment and walked
leisurely through the tree-lined streets of
Melbourne, heading toward Robbo's billiard parlour.
There was no hurry, a few minutes either way wasn't going to make
any difference. Illio watched the people bustling along, on the
way to do their late night shopping, or to the cinema. He heard
singing across the street and saw a group of Hare Krishna dancing
as they tried to sell their religion. A young woman started
delving into her purse and a man beside Illio yelled across at
her, "They're ripping you off lady!" As the shaven-headed Hare
Krishna looked up, the woman slipped away into the crowd before
he could return his attention to her.
Illio wondered where his own
situation fitted in with this thriving normality. He wondered
where Godfather-clones like Vedo and Robbo fitted into the
otherwise healthy atmosphere of Melbourne. He wondered why he had to die when he
still had so much to live for.
* * *
He arrived at the billiard
parlour six minutes early and walked slowly down the aisle
between two rows of half-sized billiard tables, lit by
coin-operated fluorescent lights, to the back of the building.
Robbo conducted all of his most important business in a small
office at the rear of the billiard parlour. The office was
small, dark and depressing, like something out of
Casablanca, the only light emanating from a single naked
bulb hanging down a metre or so from the high ceiling. The
first time Illio had been inside the room, he had instinctively
looked for the aeroplane-propeller fan overhead and had been a
little disappointed not to find it.
Robbo was tall and thin to the
point of virtual emaciation and about thirty-nine years of age.
Swarthy, with short, unruly brown hair, balding on top, cold
brown eyes, and a very prominent hair-lip. Dressed in a smart
navy blue business suit (which he either never changed or had
exact duplicates of), he sat in a high-backed leather armchair,
behind a large desk in the centre of the room. On the desk were
three telephones, one white, one red, one green, a writing pad,
and an assortment of gold-cased pens.
Behind Robbo stood his
mouthpiece, Leonard J. Parkes, Attorney, a short man, barely 150
centimetres in height, with short grey hair and steely blue eyes.
His rounded Orsen Welles physique made him look more like the
archetypal Mafia don than the reedy Robbo who looked like the
An armed hoodlum, dressed in a
pale blue suit, stood in each corner at the back of the room. A
third hood opened the door, then stood his back to it, facing
into the room, to ensure that every centimetre of the room was
So Illio didn't stand a chance,
he was going to die. There was no way he could kill all three
of the guards. The best he could hope for was to kill Robbo and
perhaps one of the two gunmen standing behind him. His only
chance would have been if he could get the three hoodlums lined
up for a second or two when the door first opened. But that
never happened. The third gunman always stood way back behind
the solid oak door until the visitor was well inside the
Then Illio was hit by a spark
of inspiration: he would offer Robbo the $180,000 and ask for an
extension on the remainder. Of course he would have to pay
extra interest, perhaps to make the remainder up to $50,000.
But then he was going to be a millionaire in a week's time (if he
was still alive to collect on the land deal), so what was a lousy
$30,000 extra to him?
If the offer was refused then
Illio would die, but at least he could take two or three of them
Illio knocked on the door
marked "OFFICE". A small slit in the door slid open, then the
gnarled face of one of the gunmen appeared and announced, "The
Boss is in conference. Wait in the hallway."
Illio did as instructed and
waited nervously outside the office, chewing mercilessly upon his
already much mutilated fingernails. He gazed around at the
dirty brown walls of the hallway, barren of paintings or
ornaments of any kind. After a moment he rubbed lazily at the
wall with one finger and the finger came away black. Beneath a
thick layer of years of grime, the wall was actually emerald
A few minutes later the door
opened and an enormously fat man, in a dark brown suit and a
bright yellow shirt, squeezed his way out of the office doorway.
He almost knocked Illio off his feet as he waddled
"You can come in now," said the
voice of the gunman, standing well back behind the partially
"Mumble mumble mumble,"
said Robbo by way of greeting as Illio strode into the
smoke-filled room. Illio stood in front of the large desk until
being waved to take a seat.
"The Boss says he's very
surprised to see you," translated Leonard J. Parkes.
"Why? Didn't he think I'd pay
up?" asked Illio.
Parkes, who had been employed
by the thin man for so long that he no longer even had to stop to
think about what his boss had said, immediately began
translating, "He says the thought never crossed his
"It's just that he's surprised
to see you so soon."
"He thought you'd need the
whole time to raise the money."
'So soon? The whole
time?' thought Illio. 'What the Hell is this?'
"He says he's feeling generous
today, because he just cleaned up on a big
"So, since you're so early he's
going to reduce the interest on your loan."
Parkes turned to look at Robbo,
who considered the reduction for a few moments.
Parkes translated as, "To
$35,000. Which --" scratching his chin while doing a quick
mental calculation -- "added to the capital, means you now owe
the Boss $175,000."
Illio's right hand had been
beneath his coat, cradling the cold butt of the magnum, ever
since he had sat down. The hand now moved to the thick wad of
$100 notes in the inner pocket of his suit coat. His head was
still reeling as he handed over the money. Parkes counted out
the agreed sum then handed back the remaining $5,000.
"The Boss says if there's
nothing else, he'll see you later. He's a very busy man, you
"No, no, that's all," muttered
Illio as he staggered to his feet.
* * *
Illio was still in a daze when
he reached his apartment and collapsed onto his lumpy cot. It
wasn't until the next day that it hit him, as Parkes' words came
back to him, "Very surprised to see you...." "Surprised to see
you so soon...." "Thought you'd need the whole time to raise
the money..." "Since you're so early..." Of course! Now he
understood! "I was right all along," said Illio to himself.
"No one says four nights! Not even that bloody hair-lipped
Brando-clone. The lispy freak must have said, 'You've got a
fortnight to pay'!"
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