Black Mask, Big City: A Tale of the Pulptress

A column article by: Tommy Hancock


A Tale of the Pulptress
By Tommy Hancock

"Too public if you ask me." The short heavy bellied man ran his sausage like digits through what few strands of greasy black hair clung to his splotched pate. His dull green eyes never wavered from their predetermined target, that being the monolithic oaken door at the back of the luxurious space he and his partner had haunted for the last three hours. A door that hadn't opened once, he grumbled under short breaths as he tugged with his free hand at wrinkles in the rumpled lavender suit coat that barely contained his burgeoning abdomen. "Too many witnesses."

"Don't matter," the thin, angular bald fencepost of a man standing back to back with his beer barrel of a partner squeaked. He was thankful that he had the more active view, even if it was more to take in. The Morriston Room, a millionaire's bawdy version of a local watering hole replete with mahogany tables, authentic crystal chandeliers and gold inlaid handcrafted paneling walls that rose from imported marble floor tiles, took up almost the entire first floor of Morriston Plaza. He'd been charged with eyeballing the front door, his murky yellow orbs watching as playboys and their gaudily dressed and bejeweled playthings stumbled in and out of the bar through a twin to the hinged plank his partner had ogled the entire evening. "Mr. Lannigan says the first team plays nice, we try nice. After all," he drummed the caramel brown mahogany bar with thin nail like fingers, "this is Park Avenue. And," his almost nonexistent lips mangled into a warped grin, "we could be on the second team."

The fat man chuckled, the noises tumbling from his meaty maw more like a donkey braying than a mercenary laughing. "Yeah," he said, resisting the urge to glance over his shoulder at his companion, "there is that. I'll take my posterior glued to a leather topped barstool any day over asphalt and alleys after midnight."

The gaunt man snorted his agreement, then both men again grew quiet. They'd played this scene many times since first arriving in The Morriston Room at nine o'clock that evening and taking up adjoining stools at the main bar at the back of the club. Actually, they'd been the anchor pair on most jobs for Mr. Lannigan for the last five or so years, both earning reputations as good clean up men. They were nondescript enough to fit in almost anywhere, from a grocery store parking lot to a New York rich men's club, but they also stood out just the right amount so as not to seem suspicious by being 'too' normal. Of course, Lannigan's obsession with his men wearing matching lavender suits made them conspicuous regardless. But Lannigan paid for the clothes and a hefty sum besides, so neither man, nor any of the eccentric crime boss's flunkies, argued too much.

"Bingo," sang the lean, lipless gun for hire 11 minutes after his last exchange with his partner. Standing up from his roost, he unrolled to a full height of six-feet-three and stood still, looking like the stripped trunk of a tree, his shoulders, elbows and knees jutting out like hard pine knots. His eyes narrowed in on the couple that had just stumbled through the front door, their voices and limbs tangled together as they practically fell into the Morriston Room. As he mentally noted every aspect of both the man and the woman as they attempted to compose their drunken selves and failed, he said his standard line on any job when the quarry fell into the trap. "Neck's in the noose."

"Drawin' it tight," came the standard response as his diminutive fat partner wiped the words from his mouth with his sleeve and wobbled upright onto his feet. He scanned the room like he always did, ignoring the target, but accounting for every other soul in the room. One body with them at the bar, an elderly lady wearing too many diamonds and drinking too much bourbon. The fiftyish silver haired bartender stood in front of her, his eyes half lidded, a victim of her slurred verbal barrages for the last hour. The obese goon in the lavender suit nodded to himself as that took care of anyone on the periphery. Casting his lazy emerald eyes to the room as a whole for the first time, he quickly counted 23 more, including the eye candy dangling all over the target. Slow on a Tuesday night, even for a billionaire's beer joint, he mused silently as he evaluated every single possible threat to the work they were about to do.

"Only two," his whisper sounded like gravel shuffling around in his flabby cheeks. "The old guy over there, against the left wall. Lots of white mustache on his lip and lots of brunette at his table. Looks ex-military or cop. And the other one," he gestured with at least two of his three chins toward the door. "Dude sitting by himself, four tables in on the right from the front door, brandy snifter in front of him. He could be trouble."

"Got it," the lanky ruffian confirmed as he took a step away from the bar, his little buddy falling in behind him to the left. They both hesitated, waiting for the last cog to turn in their well-oiled machine. It did a second later as the front door opened again and two men entered. The first one through was tall, broad shouldered and blonde with the tanned face of a 1950s matinee idol while the read headed man closing the door came up to his partner's shoulder and was smaller in stature, built like a well-trained jockey with the look of a switchblade knife ready to spring open. Both wore lavender suits.

"Okay," that ugly thin lipped grin twisted the skinny goon's narrow face again, "time to get our boy home to his new boss."

The odd looking pair of men navigated the obstacle course of glass and chrome chairs and tables between them and their quarry. The two men behind the obviously intoxicated and involved man and woman did the same, the matinee idol crossing to the left, the other countering and taking up the right flank. Both teams of two stopped with about five feet between them and the man they intended to leave with.

'But Deucey, baby," the curvy, svelte blonde bombshell said in a high pitched twitter, enough alcohol in her words that "s" already slurred into "sh", "I don't wanna drink anymore. " She hung on her consort's neck, a fetching, evocative charm any man would want on his bracelet, her well-muscled, pale skinned body barely concealed by the scraps of crimson and black that made up the Fortier original dress she wore. "And nobody's dancin' in here, baby."

"Not yet, darling," the man in the charcoal gray Armani suit replied, doing his best to stay on his own two feet while trying to wrangle the tittering and tantalizing lady from around his neck. His posture and the flush of his cheeks gave away that he'd spent the last few hours swimming up Whiskey River, but that was all that betrayed his inebriation. He stood up to as much of his full six feet as possible, his lady still hanging on with one arm, her head thrown back and the other arm dangling at her side, gregarious giggles still bubbling from between candy apple red lips. Drunk though he may have been, Thomas "Deuce" Kane's deep hazel eyes reverberated intelligence and awareness as he took in the two men in pastel colored suits in before him. "Looks like these gents may want to punch my dance card, though."

The blonde tried her best to focus on the men encircling them. Whatever she saw only made her snicker even more. "You might be right, Deucey. They're all wearin' the cutest shade of pink."

"Mr. Kane," shrilled the knobby jointed skeleton of a man in front of him, "Mr. Lannigan has dispatched us here to your favorite late night libation location to renew his previous offers."

"Oh no, you don't!" Struggling against gravity as well as her own chemically induced limitations, the vivacious blonde let go of Kane's neck and promptly fell sideways onto the floor. Instinctively Kane and all four of his assailants twitched as if to bend to help her up, but she was amazingly back upright, even though unsteadily, on her red high heels before any one of them could extend a hand. She faced Kane and poked him with a long red nail. "You said no business tonight, Deucey. You promised!"

"I did indeed, dearest Tori," Kane said, his face mottled with colors from ashen gray to embarrassed scarlet, "but these are the sort of gentlemen you don't plan for."

"Indeed," spat the rotund man wobbling back and forth on pudgy limbs just behind his thin friend. "And Mr. Lannigan has no concern for your partying, promiscuous playboy antics, Mr. Kane. He wants the other side of you."

"Yes," Kane sighed, "So many do, it's a curse of being filthy rich and one of the smartest men treading earth." He laughed at his own arrogant compliment, Tori providing accompaniment with her continual chittering. "But again, I'm sorry, fellows," Kane said, actually sounding as if he simply hated to disappoint the four men, "but I'm afraid the answer is the same here in one of New York's finest hotels as it was in Mr. Lannigan's office a week ago. I have no need to work for anyone or to even work at all. And although Mr. Lannigan is a rather interesting man at the very least, his disregard for legality bothers me somewhat. So, no."

"No," hissed the bony hoodlum, his skeletal knuckles cracking as he rolled his fingers into fists, "was an answer Mr. Lannigan tolerated at your first meeting. It is not one he will allow us to accept tonight, Mr. Kane. You're coming with us."

"Deucey," Tori chirped excitedly, placing her pale ivory hands seductively on Kane's chest, "I do so wanna dance. But," she exclaimed, giving her escort a playful but hard shove backwards, "not with you!"

What unfolded in the next few seconds in vivid living color could only be described as an homage to those old classic black and white screwball comedy fight scenes from the likes of Claudette Colbert. Deuce Kane fell back, his well-muscled arms flailing. The jockey switchblade tried to avoid the collapsing millionaire by stepping back and to the left, but he wasn't fast enough. Kane crashed into him on his way to landing on his back on the barroom floor. The little ruffian yelled out as he took a flying slap to the temple and collided with a table. The man seated there predicted what was about to occur and slid an ebony hand across the table, taking and lifting his brandy snifter gingerly, and let the unconscious man come to rest before him.

As her hands left Deuce's chest, Tori spun about like a whirling dervish, set her crystalline blue eyes on the matinee idol in lavender, and shouted, "It's you I wanna dance with!" Before he could accept, refuse, or slap her down, Tori's long arms encircled his neck. With fleeting thoughts of not minding the embrace, the good looking hood raised his hands and pushed against her, muttering "Lady, leggo!" three or four times.

"Oh," Tori squealed excitedly, "you dance divinely! Swing me! Swing me!"

"Enough!" belched the round stringy haired man, his hand sliding into his colorful jacket for the polished silver pistol hanging from his shoulder. Before his frankfurter fingers even felt the cold steel of the gun, he was caught off guard by what happened next. Although the criminal with the Van Heflin face seemed to be arguing with his new paramour's advances, he now appeared to be complying. He jerked forward and suddenly Tori was airborne, her toned, shapely legs fanning through the air, a comely top spinning from the pivot her current dance partner provided.

The gangly crook took the first hit, a high heeled shoe to the temple. He opened his mouth to gasp or shout or something, but unconsciousness fell over him quickly. All that crawled out over his paper like lips was a weakened, defeated breath.

Cursing as his front man folded like a sheet in a storm wind, the big bellied man went down on one knee to avoid the return trip of Tori's high flying heels. As he hit the floor, though, he saw the only other of his team still standing, the good looking kid with sparkling eyes and a killer smile, drop to the floor as if suddenly overcome by sleep. His head dipped forward first, those enchanting glimmers of his fluttering shut, and then the rest of his athletic build followed, crumpling on the floor like discarded laundry.

As he fell to the floor, Tori, no longer with a neck to hold, flew full body through the air, almost as if she'd been thrown by the Errol Flynn wannabe before he took an unscheduled nap. Rolling up into the ball he already so much resembled, the last remaining attacker hoped for the best. What he got instead was all the blonde and expensive dress he could handle, a torpedo of tantalizing beauty. And, just like his cohorts, a shroud of darkness pulled over him as he unfurled on the floor, knocked completely out.

Sitting upright by now, Deuce Kane guffawed and slapped his right leg hard as he watched the comedy of errors explode before him. Tori climbed up off the floor, tripping over the thick dead weight the fat man had become, and stumbled heel over heel into the table where the nervous jockey type thug had landed. She glanced up, confused at first, and saw the man who'd been sitting at the table. He looked at her with amused coppery eyes and a mischievous grin adding mirth to his dusky features. Tori giggled at him and pushed away from the table, finally back on her own two feet. As she did so, the short man on the table started moaning, trying to raise his head up. The black man, still holding his brandy snifter up off the table, patted his unwelcome guest on the shoulder, saying in a rumbling voice, "Stay down, old man. Rest." Apparently taking the advice, the formerly tightly wound henchman dropped back to the tabletop, out cold once more.

Tori, steadying herself at long last, looked around at the carnage her dancing display had caused. Most of the patrons in the bar were on their feet, clapping and laughing at what some assumed surely had to be some sort of odd impromptu theatrical production. "Oh dear," Tori sighed, playfully flinging a pale hand to her crimson lips, "did I do that?"

"Indeed, you did, my dear," Deuce Kane roared as he, using a table on one side and a chair on the other, pushed himself up off the floor. Rolling his shoulders and pulling at the epaulets of his suit coat, he then wrapped an arm around the blonde beauty's waist and whispered loud enough for the entire bar to overhear, "Now, let's go up to my room and see what else you can do."

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