The Long Knives
He awakens to a blood-streaked news report on the television: “Gangland retaliation is to be blamed for shocking news coming out of New Jersey this morning, whereupon twenty suspected mafioso members were murdered and dumped along Wales Court in Annandale. We’re joined now by our on-the-scene reporter, Geoffrey...” His attention turns to his cell phone, buzzing uncontrollably on the night stand. He picks up and waits for confirmation. “It’s true. They killed ‘em all, man. Jesus Christ, Morris, they killed ‘em!” Eldol is half-crying, half-screaming. He sounds like he may be wounded. On the TV, high-powered hoses are washing blood off the sidewalk, creating muddled red streams that flow into the gutters. He presses the mute button. “Who did it?” John Morris says, slipping out of bed and calmly going through his wardrobe for an appropriate suit for hiding out. “They used fucking knives, my man! Long as my arm, I swear.” Eldol sobs and then emits a childish screech. He cannot help himself. “Uh-huh,” Morris says. He remains patient, waiting for the right moment to get all the necessary information out of Eldol. The graphic behind the reporter’s head on television has changed, same as her expression. She’s happily discussing a successful weapons-exchange program over in Long Island today. “Waited for everybody to bleed to death before they dumped them,” Eldol is saying on the phone. “Vo got the worst of it.They cut him to confetti, and oh wow, they let me go. Can you believe they let me go?” Morris doesn’t say no. “Are you hurt?” He picks out a simple gray jacket and slacks and arranges them on the bed. He picks a ball of lint from one sleeve and flicks it into a trash can. Eldol breathlessly says he’s got a stab wound but is otherwise all right. Morris gives him an address to go to and tells him to go and stay put, that he - Morris - will handle everything. Morris reiterates this point. They hang up. Twenty minutes later, a .45 rests between Bradley Monson’s teeth. He has wet himself and the smell surrounds them like a cloud. “Mmm a fuffn affowffan,” he’s saying, which Morris translates to, I’m a fucking accountant. “Cs are tough to formulate like this, right?” Morris responds. He knows the cops have been called because of the way the secretary watched him walk in, but he still has five or seven minues, by his own estimation. He trusts his estimation. “Imagine speaking without teeth whatsoever.” The guy hesitates but stands his ground, and rather than shoot him, Morris flips the gun around, butt-first. When Morris shows the man both central incisors covered in blood, his loyalty to the corrupt-as-fuck boss melts into a hysterical fit. He makes it out of the building with minutes to spare. Four bleeding kneecaps later, and the mid-level goons who work for the guys who work for the man responsible for last night have revealed to Morris where the accomplices are hiding out. He leaves them tied to a toilet in the abandoned place, where no one will find them for weeks. The address - scribbled on the hand Morris has bagged up in his glove compartment - turns out to be a strip club. Not surprising. Morris gets out and slips around back, a .38 in each hand. The goons - especially the one-handed guy - won’t miss them, he suspects. A gorilla steps out from behind the rear dumpster, zipper in one hand, a submachine gun pressed against his gut with the other forearm. Morris grazes the dude’s ear with the first shot and takes off a significant portion of the neck with the one that follows. He falls gurgling to the blacktop, and three quick swipes with the butt of a .38 puts him under. He’ll bleed out in a couple of minutes. Morris stuffs the steaming-hot .38s in his waistband and checks the MP5’s clip. A full thirty rounds. By the time he has reloaded, the back door has burst open and two men have the barrels of their weapons pointed in Morris’s general vicinity. Fire and noise burst from the open doorway, and Morris ducks behind the dumpster, where the smell of the now-expiring goon’s urine is strong. They can’t shoot. That much is apparent. Bullets ricochet and disappear off into the mellow mid-morning sky. He waits them out. It only takes a few minutes. Their impatience overpowers them, and they run, screaming in Italian, toward the dumpster. Firing wildly, unaware of their dwindling clips. One bullet punctures Morris’s haven close enough to momentarily deafen him, but still he doesn’t move. A first click, and then another. Morris pivots out from behind the dumpster to see the men staring dumbfoundedly at him. They are still jerking at their MP5s when Morris guns them down. They fall lifelessly across one another, and Morris checks their faces to see if he recognizes them. The two of them are somewhat familiar, but by this point, all faces possess a semblance of familiarity to him. Of the two people who emerge from the strip club next, one of them is nude and crying. One of the strippers. A gun similar to the one in Morris’s hands is draped across the screaming woman’s shoulder. Peeking out from the edge of the opposite shoulder is a meaty, goateed face. “I’m a shoot the bitch,” the man holding her hostage is screaming, over and over, spitting the words in his direction like curses. Hengis works for Danny Saxon, the man in Morris’s sights. He’s been a loyal servant for twenty years, but sitting high on the food chain has made him soft and fat. A decade or less separates him from death by coronary, so it’s almost fortuitous that this meeting is even taking place. There is a moment when Morris contemplates shooting the stripper. He is a utilitarian, and he weighs the benefits of saving the lives of countless people in the future by sacrificing this one woman. Ultimately, it is the look of the mascara drawing black lines on her cheeks that dissuades him, and he’s back at square one. The gun pressed to the stripper’s temple is shaking, and Morris is certain her brains will decorate the ground before this is all over. Three more people step into the back lot of Senor Jiggly’s, all of them nude, all of them packing serious heat, and Morris manages to let himself relax. Their shotguns aren’t aimed at Morris, and Hengis has obviously focused too readily in his direction. Candy, Jasmine, and Victoria make the mobster’s ass disappear, and before they are able to finish off their former boss - Morris promises them some alone time, once he’s done - Morris has to pistol whip the location of Saxon’s compound out of him. The last thing he does on the way out is show the girls how to use an MP5. A sound not unlike a string of firecrackers erupts from behind him as he pulls back onto the highway. He suspects death won’t be the final indignity visited upon Hengis. Those women have been through more than their fair share of shitty treatment at the hands of manipulative dicks, and, unluckily for him, Hengis has unintentionally become a representation of everything they despise. I-78 leads Morris West into the sticks, and he enjoys the heat and the breeze coming in through the window of his BMW 7 Series. Heat comforts him, like a harbinger of things to come. Two guys stand at guard in the entrance to Saxon’s secret mansion, which sits off the road behind a row of trees. Morris imagines these two aren’t the only dudes standing between him and the rival bossman, and he proceeds accordingly. The trunk of Morris’s car is outfitted with a case for a sniper rifle. He attaches all of the components and waits for his moment. An hour into the surveillance, one of the dude steps in front of the other to light a bummed cigarette, and Morris takes both of them out with a single shot. There is a bright, raspberry-colored stain on the wall after they slump to the ground, and he is forced to skip over their brains on the way up the pathway. He proceeds in a roundabout fashion toward the mansion’s rear entrance. The yard is a lush expanse of exotic and well-manicured plants and trees. It’s not difficult for Morris to conceal himself among the shrubbery, and he takes this opportunity to case Saxon’s joint. There aren’t many windows, and the ones that do exist are covered. Morris gives Saxon the benefit of the doubt and imagines a strapped dude behind each one. Surprisingly, only a single goon blocks the rear patio, and Morris takes him down with the butt of one .38. Two quick swipes, and the guy just drops. Blood squirts in a small, uneven spray over the Spanish tile. No time to wipe it up. Saxon is an oppositional force in organized crime, always stepping on toes when he should be hanging back. This time, he’s blown some toes off, and Morris is one of the last guys to be able to save the foot. The boss and Eldol have been spared, but the rest of them are gone. They’ll be included in future exposes on the criminal underground, and their lifeless faces will forever be associated with a certain kind of failure. Morris makes his way to the kitchen, where he splashes two handfuls of water on his face and regains some composure. It’s been a long day, and the last thing he needs is to run out of gas in the home stretch. The stakes have reached their highest point. Unlike many of the more elegant homes Morris has seen, there is no stairwell or dumbwaiter leading from the kitchen to the top floor, where Morris suspects Saxon is no doubt waiting for him. He has to double back around to the main living area, which is too wide open for his taste. The four guys at the top of the stairs take shots to the nuts, chest, head, and heart, respectively, and Morris spends five minutes searching for an office of some kind. The sweet, rank odor of cigar smoke lingers in the air, and he follows it to a set of double doors hidden off the main hallway. Inside, Saxon is reclined in a leather chair, smoking and looking very much like Rutger Hauer. A man is perched at his shoulder and fires on Morris before he can get the first shot off. This guy is quick. “You are relentless, aren’t you,” Saxon says over his cigar, just as Morris takes a knee in front of him. Blood stains the front of his shirt. The bullet missed his heart, but not by much. “We had to do something about that.” Morris gets off a single shot before the other guy retaliates. The guy’s bullet grazes Morris’s shoulder. Morris’s takes off the back of the other guy’s head. Morris thinks a window nearby breaks, but he cannot tell if it is coming from within his own mind or not. “To think,” Saxon says, coming over and placing one foot over the pistol’s barrel, “That this all arose out of a marital dispute.” Wait, what? Morris wants to say but can’t. His vision is growing blurry from the pain. He watches the gun being pulled from his grasp, failing to work out a way to fire one last shot into Saxon’s flabby chest. “I know your boss and I have suffered some...disputes over the years, but this time he went too far.” Saxon made a sour face. “Insulting my daughter like that, refusing to marry her off to your stiff of an associate, Eldol. Man, what a child. I guess that’s what the girls go for these days, the moody artist types. Men unlike you or me, men who couldn’t endure what you have endured today.” “Get to it,” Morris says, panting. “This is putting me to sleep.” “Oh, there’s no point to this. I’m just enjoying your last few minutes on Earth. Without you, the old man is a goner. It was worth shaving the fat off my own operation. He’ll have no choice but accept the request now, to be folded into the embrace of my generosity. He’s too weak, and you’ll be dead, so there will be no need for me to offer an olive branch for, well, anything, I suppose.” “No way,” Morris says, trying to stand. “Not a chance in Hell.” “Oh, I’m afraid the fix is already in,” Saxon replies, puffing his stogie. “It was fairly easy convincing your associate to turn tail.” Saxon smiles at this. “How do you think he survived last night? What story could he have concocted? We aren’t that sloppy, I promise you. He rolled over like a dog, promised up and down that he could deliver you up to me. Guess he was right.” Morris has heard enough. He manages to get his feet under him, watching the way one of the .38s is being pointed at him. With one last burst of energy, he slides the other .38 out of his pants and aims low. Saxon fires a fraction of a second later, but he’s too late. The game’s already over. Blood gushes from the artery the bullet has severed, and Morris finishes off the old man’s cigar as he watches him bleed to death. Rather than stump the lit cigar in the elaborate tray, he places the ember against the edge of a stack of papers and exits the way he came. It’ll take hours for the place to burn down. The injuries aren’t fatal, but they hurt like a couple sons-of-bitches. However, he’s fairly confident the business he has left with Eldol won’t take much time. Staring at the sun dropping behind the trees, he figures, Hell, he’s got an hour of sunlight left. That should be plenty of time.