Sid's Nickel

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
There's no such thing as a perfect crime.

Submitted: July 12, 2012

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Submitted: July 12, 2012

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"Gimme a cigarette."

"I thought you quit."

"Yeah, I did. Then I got shot."

Sid and Jack laughed at that. It was Jack’s kind of joke, but Sid winced with the pain in his chest. He coughed and speckled his chin with phlegm and blood.

Jack lit a smoke and passed it over. Sid inhaled deeply and a little jet of smoke escaped from the hole in his shirt. It looked like he had a tiny tea kettle under his jacket.

Jack surveyed the joint from where they sat. It hadn’t ever been what anyone would call quaint, or nice, or clean: decades old carpets run thin in familiar paths, pictures that no one looked at hung at careless angles, wallpaper faded to something not quite grey, not quite brown, peeling paint, probably the kind with lead in it. Now, fire grumbled from the doorways along the hall. The wallpaper was catching. Some dead guy’s legs were visible at the end of the hall; the rest of him was around the corner, baking. Thick smoke pulsed from one of his trouser legs.

"You want to tell me what went wrong?" Jack asked.

Sid looked around in surprise. "What makes you think something went wrong?"

They laughed again.

"I guess it’s mostly all the fire," Jack said, idling down to a chuckle.

"Yeah," Sid said, shaking his head, "fucking goat-screw, or what?"

"Who started it?"

"Don’t you think we’re a bit past that stage?"

Jack chuckled some more and shook his head. "You want some advice?"

"Is it big enough to plug this hole?" Sid poked gingerly at his ruined shirt.

"No, seriously. This is good advice. I got this from a guy I knew who was on death row down in Angola."

"Did it work for him?"

"No, but it wasn’t for lack of trying."

Sid shrugged, and winced. "Okay, shoot."

They looked at each other and laughed some more. Jack had to wipe his eyes before he could go on.

"It’s never too late to blame somebody else."

Sid considered this for a minute. "Is that it?"

Jack nodded his bald, shiny head. In the firelight it looked almost white.

"Alright, it’s all your fault."

"See? How did that make you feel?"

"Not appreciably better."

Jack shrugged. "So, who started it?"

"Truth is, I don’t really remember. You know how it is. When the shit hits the fan, it tends to do it at speed."

"Fucking-a right it does. But, try to think back."

"Yeah, alright. Hey, shouldn’t we get out of here? We made a hell of a noise. The cops’ll be here soon."

"We got time. They’re not likely to go running into a burning building to save the likes of you or me."

Sid nodded. "Makes sense." He paused for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts. "Thinking about it logically, Dominic probably started it. He’s crazy - I mean… he was crazy. All Slush and no Puppy, that guy."

"Where were you when it happened?"

"Right here, except standing up."

Jack looked up at the wall above Sid and saw a big red poppy standing out bright against the dull wallpaper.

"They were all in there," Sid said, gesturing to the open doorway across the hall from them. Inside, four dead men and an upturned table lay in a bloody tangle, legs pointing every which way.

"Good view," Jack said.

"Yeah. Both ways." Sid looked down and fingered the hole in his chest again. Strange that it didn’t hurt as much as it had a minute ago.

"So, then what?"

"Yeah, sorry." Sid looked up from his chest and continued. "Dominic was sitting at the table. Julius was counting out the dough."

"How much?"

"About five hundred grand."

"Big game."

"Biggest in town. Lately, anyway." Sid paused again, then, seemed to drift off into a daydream.

"Sid?"

"Yeah?" His eyes were still far away.

"Go on, Sid."

"Yeah," he said, snapping out of it. "Yeah, sorry. Those two big idiots, the brothers, I forget their names."

"The Le Beaufort twins?"

"Yeah. Cleetus and Clem. Fucking hayseeds. They were there. Muscle, I guess. Put it to you this way, they weren’t helping count, ‘cause it would take the two of them to get up to forty, and then they’d have to take their shoes off."

Jack smiled. "Suffice it to say, the waters of their gene-pool do not run deep."

"No shit."

"Go on."

"Well, then Dom starts twitching around with something under the table."

"What was it?"

"It was his gun, wasn’t it."

"How the hell did he get a gun past the heavies?"

"He didn’t. It was taped to the underside of the table."

"How did he manage that one?"

"Manny planted it."

"Manny? Was he gonna get a cut?"

"Well, he thought he was. But, Dom was still sore about that business with his turtle."

"His turtle?"

"Yeah. Have you not heard that story?"

"No."

"Well, it’ll have to wait for later. It’s kind of convoluted. Anyway, Dom was still sore about his turtle. So, Manny thought he was in for twenty-five, but what he had coming was a slug in the back of the head and a ride in the limo."

"You guys were serious."

"That was Dom’s call. Nothin’ to do with me. Where was I?"

"Dom’s gun."

"Oh yeah. It was stuck under the table. I guess Manny made too good a job of taping it on there, ‘cause Dom couldn’t get it off. He struggled with it, and I could see his hands going, and he gave a jerk and the table lurched about a foot. Of course, Julius turned and looked at him, and that was it, I think. Dom must have seen something in Julius’ eyes, or thought that Julius could see something in his, ‘cause he pulled the trigger."

"With the gun still taped to the bottom of the table?"

"Yeah."

"Didn’t it jam? With all the tape?"

"Yeah. But, the one shot got Julius right in the gut."

"Ouch."

"No shit. Then, the hayseeds got their fingers out of their noses and started shooting at stuff."

"Hit anything?"

"Not that I could see. Dom, maybe."

"How’d you get that?" Jack pointed to Sid’s wound.

"Julius, sneaky fucker. He had a little .38 in his sock."

"Did you have a gun?"

Sid held up a little four-barrelled Derringer.

"Manny?" Jack asked.

"Yeah. Taped it behind the u-bend in the toilet for me."

"What? Under water in the toilet?"

"No, just behind the big pipe, before it goes through the wall. I put it up my sleeve. When Julius shot me, I dropped it."

"That why you sat down?"

Sid looked at Jack for a second and smiled. "Good one."

"You like that?" Jack asked. "I’m full of ‘em."

"Full of something." Sid looked at Jack again, this time suspiciously. "When did you get here? I don’t remember seeing you at the game."

"I walked through the door the instant the first shot was fired."

"Good timing."

"Depends on how you look at it." Jack grinned again and Sid thought the guy had way too many teeth. "So," Jack continued, "I take it you put that big hole in Julius’ head."

"Yeah." Sid looked at the little gun again. "Three-fifty-seven."

"And the twins?"

"Fucking idiots tried to get through the door at the same time. Fish in a barrel."

"And that guy?" Jack pointed to the smouldering legs down the hall.

"Yeah. I don’t know who that guy is, but he stuck his head around the corner, so I ventilated it for him. Isn’t it some kind of unwritten law that if you stick your head around a corner in a gunfight, whoever sees it is obliged to shoot you in it?"

"It’s more of a guideline, really, but we won’t quibble."

"No, let’s not quibble." Sid studied Jack for a moment. It may have been the blood loss, but he had the odd feeling that the harder he studied Jack’s features, the less well defined they became. He looked at him steadily for two or three seconds and then drifted away, not knowing what had been on his mind the previous instant. Then he’d catch up to his train of thought and start the cycle over. He felt dreamy again. "Why do you want to know all this shit?"

"It’s in my job description. Besides, it’s cathartic for you."

"Yeah, I feel a weight has been lifted."

Jack laughed, but Sid coughed and spat up more blood. He noticed that this time, even though there was more of it, he could taste it less. He couldn’t make up his mind if that was good or bad. When he put his cigarette to his lips, he saw that it had burned down to the filter. He threw it at the advancing flames, an offering. Jack lit him another.

"I’ll give you this, Sid, my friend: you’re pretty fuckin’ sharp for a guy with a sucking chest wound."

Sid found this piece of flattery particularly amusing, but he was too choked to laugh properly. Blood ran down his chin and out his nose like spilt nail polish leaving a vivid, liquid Fu Manchu goatee.

"How come the place is on fire?" Jack asked, looking Sid in the eye, not interested in his blood or bullet hole.

"That would be Arturo."

"You mean Arty Munez?"

"Yeah."

"Was that part of the plan?"

"Well, yeah, but personally, I think he overdid it. It was only supposed to be a diversionary tactic."

"Did it work, at least?"

"Hell no. Dom went all squirrelly and fucked us. He was supposed to wait for Arturo to drop his bottle to attract everybody’s attention, but he spooked and fired too soon. I guess Arturo heard the shot and over compensated. Maybe he thought he was late."

"Where was he?"

"Arty? He was tending bar. He had a vodka bottle filled with methylated spirits."

"You mean vodka?"

"Turpentine, I think. Anyway, he was supposed to light it, then drop it behind the bar and start shouting for help. Then, while everyone ran to put out the fire or bugged out to save their own skin, Dom was supposed to un-tape his gun and get the drop on Julius and the Moron Brothers, with me as back-up. Then it would have just been a matter of hog-tyin’ ‘em and sneaking out the back." He leaned forward for emphasis and blood patted the dusty floor between his legs. "You might not believe this, but this job was planned to go off without a shot fired."

Jack was still grinning broadly. "If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, you know what I’d have?"

"One of my nickels."

"One of your nickels. Sharp."

Sid leaned back against the wall with a squelch and dragged on his cigarette.

"You know," he said, "I like Arturo. I don’t even know if he made it out, or what."

"Arty’s dead. He tried to shoot his way out with an empty gun."

Sid exhaled smoke and shook his head. "I hate when that happens."

They sat for a minute in silence, the wood slats in the old walls crackling like pine boughs in a campfire. Finally, Jack stood.

"We should be makin’ tracks, Sid, old buddy."

Sid looked at him again and tried to focus.

"Do I know you?"

Jack smiled.

"I mean, I know you, you’re Jack, right?"

"I’m Jack."

"But something tells me that’s not your real name. You got an alias?"

"Many. One for every minute of every day, some say one for every second."

"Why so many?"

"It comes with the job."

Sid considered this, briefly. "Do you like it? The job, I mean."

Jack shrugged. "Pays the bills."

Sid laughed, unmindful of his spray. "That’s a hot one, if you’ll pardon the pun. What I meant was, does what you do give you any satisfaction? Do you feel like you’ve put in a good day’s work at the end of a shift? Do you feel what you do is worthwhile?"

"Do you?"

"Look around you, Jack. I’m unemployed."

"You really are as sharp as a fucking mosquito’s pecker, you know that, Sid?"

Sid just sighed. Jack extended a hand. To Sid, the skin on it looked almost transparent. The hand looked claw-like, but powerful. Sid didn’t like it.

"You ready?" Jack asked.

"Will it hurt?"

"Does it hurt now?"

Sid thought about it and had to admit that it didn’t.

"Just take my hand," Jack said in a soothing voice, "And I’ll get you the hell out of Dodge."


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