There is No Johnny–Just Call Me Smitty
In the darkened solitude of the car, he watched her hurriedly walk across the semi-deserted street and step up on the opposite curb. All the time moving underneath the curved expanse of a red umbrella.
Her favorite color.
Red umbrella. Red shoes. A red dress. A red car. Red . . .
Like the color of blood.
The rain was coming down pretty hard. Pelting the sidewalks and street with droplets big enough to almost knock someone out. Like getting hit with a blackjack. Unexpected. Thus the more effective.
It drenched every living creature with a wet monotony that simply refused to let up. Made growl and snap their own masters. Made women think about killing their husbands. Made husbands think about their wives. Unpleasantly.
Especially in this part of town. A rough neighborhood. Whore houses. Pawnshops. Cheap saloons. Semi-deserted hotels. Unemployed blue-collar workers lounging about rubbing shoulders with wannabe hoodlums and gang bangers who thought they were tough. A week didn’t go by without him and his partner coming down here to break up a fight or separate a wife and a husband from trying to shoot one or the other.
About once a month they’d be down with a meat wagon to investigate a murder or two. Like clockwork. Like taxes. Like Death. Every month.
And here he was watching his wife trotting daintily around large puddles of water underneath a bright red umbrella heading for one of those dives for a hotel.
He’d come home from work and she was gone. Again. The fourth time in two weeks. Not home. The house dark. The breakfast dishes still sitting on the kitchen table dirty. Her red Dodge Charger missing. The garage door still up. Gone. The first three times he shrugged it off. Darlene was that way. A bit flighty. A spur-of-the-moment kind of gal. Ever since they were kids the three of them—himself, his twin brother Russell and Darlene—used to chum around a lot. She was always flighty. Usually, that meant Darlene got into trouble flirting around and being the tease. He and Russell always around to pull her out of the jams she got herself in.
In the darkness of the car, he almost smiled.
His exact twin. Tall, good looking, curly black hair. Black coals for eyes. Just like him. But Russell was different as well. He was easy going. Smiled a lot. Flirted with every female he was around. Old or young. It didn’t matter. He had as way with’em. They enjoyed Russell being outrageous with’em. Encouraged it even.
And he was a gambler. At everything. Did stupid things just for the kick of it. Played cards like an expert. Rolled in dough. More dough than he should have had legitimately. But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t say a word. Russell was his brother. Russell had a way of making people happy. Make them happy even though he probably was robbing them blind.
Loved his brother. Almost worshipped the guy.
And . . . of course . . . Darlene was madly in love with him. But Russell? Russell did what Russell was good at. He flirted with Darlene and got her motor running. Got his way with him. Used her like an old worn-out mattress whenever he was down and out on his luck.
Which was rare.
But then one day Russell does something incredibly stupid. Back when they were eighteen. Convinced Darlene to seduce a couple of look hoods who ran the numbers racket in this neighborhood. And while she had the two of them off in another room Russell came in and took all the money that was that week’s take. Every dime of it. When the two hoods finally zipped up their pants and figured out what had happened the became very angry.
All hell broke loose.
They went hunting for Russell and Darlene. They wanted their money back and they wanted to teach those two a lesson. The kind of lesson you didn’t recover from. Russell knew he was in a jam and came running to him pleading for help.
“Johnny, Johnny! You gotta do this! You gotta take care of this are they’re gonna hurt Darlene. Hurt her bad! That’s why we gotta leave town. Now, Johnny . . this instant. You take care of the problem and Darlene and I will disappear for a while. Until it all blows over,” he said to him that night.
“What do you want me to do?” he remembered asking his brother quietly.
He was always the quiet one. The shy one. The hesitant one. The reliable one. He was the one who loved Darlene. Loved her even though she felt nothing for him. Never.
“You . . you have to somehow fix it. Fix it so the guys they work for never suspect us again. Never suspect’s Darlene. Never suspect me.”
He looked in the coal black eyes of his identical twin and said nothing for a moment or two before silently nodding. Stepping forward he threw arms around his brother and held him tight for a moment before stepping back.
“The two of you be happy. I’ll take care of the problem here. Go get Darlene and beat it.”
Russell nodded and left. Left town. Left the country. Left taking all that money with him. Left Darlene behind. Left her here crying her eyes out and completely devastated.
Left him in the middle of a situation needing to be resolved quickly.
Years ago. Years ago . . .
He and Darlene married a year after Russell left. He joined the police force. Rose through the ranks. Became a detective. And Darlene . . . Darlene was as flighty as ever.
In the darkness of his old car he watched her step into the doorway of a flophouse and quickly fold the bright red umbrella tightly before shaking it violently. She turned and disappeared into the darkness of the interior without hesitation. Without the slightest concern for her safety. As if she knew exactly what she was doing.
In the darkness a hand reached down and picked up the folded bank statement lying in the seat beside him. Unfolding it he used the light of a liquor store’s blazing neon sign to read again. For the hundredth time.
Gone. Simply gone.
Thirty thousand dollars. His entire savings. Gone.
Taken out in four large installments. Each date of the withdrawal the same date that Darlene was gone for several hours from home.
Rage . . . uncontrollable rage . . . burned in his chest. The grim mask for a face, those dark, dark eyes, would have made Lucifer himself step back in hesitation. Tossing the bank statement back onto the seat he looked up and stared at the entrance to the flop house. The rain kept beating its unrelenting patter on the roof and hood of the car like some kind of surrealistic fugue. The low overcast sky turned the street into a multitude of gray hues. There was no color. No life. No mercy.
But rage burned with a fierce blue white intensity.
Hot. All consuming.
The driver’s side door opened and he rolled out into the rain. Closing the door gently he moved to the rear of the car and opened the truck lid. From within he plucked the solid, ugly form of a heavy crow bar. Closing the lid he turned and walked across the empty street and stepped onto the side walk.
Entering the flop house the hairy guy chewing on the stub of a cigar behind the counter looked up . . . and turned ghostly white at the image of the dripping wet man standing in front of him holding a crowbar in his hand.
“The woman that just came in here. Gimme the room number she was heading to.”
“Uh . . . uh,” the hairy man grunted, sweat breaking out on his forehead as a shaky hand pulled the stub of the cigar out of his mouth. “twenty . . . twenty-one. Second floor, fourth door on the right.”
“You never saw me here; have no idea what happened,” the soft hiss of the man with the crowbar said as he laid the ugly piece of steel on the counter top in a simple gesture of stark menace. “We clear on that?”
All the hairy man could do for a response was nod his head a couple of times and gulp. Loudly.
Up the stairs the dark eyed man moved. Silently. With the movement of a natural athlete. Or a big jungle cat on the prowl. Crowbar in one hand. Murder in his eyes. Like a ghostly wraith he moved down the second floor hall of the flop house without making a sound. Coming to Rm. 21 he didn’t hesitate. Stepping back he lifted a foot up and kicked the door as hard as he could. Wood splintered, the door banged open loudly, bounced off the wall and flew back to a closed position. Slammed shut behind him. It didn’t matter. He was already in the room, standing beside the cheap, old, iron framed bed staring down at the nude bodies of his wife and his brother.
“Jesus Christ, Johnny! What the hell . . . !” Russell shouted, pushing the voluptuous Darlene to one side and starting to roll out of the bed.
With his free hand, balled into a hard fist, he hit Russell on the side of the jaw. Hit him with every ounce of strength he had. Russell’s head snapped to one side and he fell to his knees on the floor as Darlene pulled a sheet up over her and screamed.
Bending down he grabbed his brother by the throat and yanked him to his feet. And hit him again. And again. And again. The fist popping into bone and flesh with the force of a jackhammer. Russell, the laughing one . . . the smart one . . . the friendly con . . . staggered back and reeled and wobbled on his feet from the blows. But the blows from the single hard fist kept coming. Kept sliding through whatever defenses he tried to throw up and protect himself.
Not once did the dark eyed man with the crowbar in his hand lift the black piece of steel up to strike at his brother. Not until Russell fell into the single chair beside the bed. On the backrest of the chair was his clothes. And the shoulder holster with the big .45 caliber Colt Government Model riding in it. Grabbing the gun the bloody exact image of his brother standing in front of him came out the chair lifting, the gun coming up at the same time.
The crowbar came swinging through the semi-darkness of the room. With a sickening ‘Thunk!’ it broke Russell’s gun hand just behind the wrist. With a vicious backswing the crowbar came whistling through the air again and smacked into the side of Russell’s face. Bone crunched and Russell’s jaw shattered in three places. Down the man went to the floor, face first, unconscious. A bloody, mangled, nude copy of the man standing over him.
Johnny turned and stared at his wife. She was on her knees in the middle of the bed, a sheet covering her nudity, her eyes wide in terror as she started up at him.
“Get your clothes on. I’m getting you outta here.”
The words came out of his mouth in a harsh whisper. A eerie, unnerving sound which involuntarily sent chills down his wife’s spine.
“Johnny, Johnny! What’s happened to you? What happened to your voice? You . . . you don’t sound like the Johnny I know!”
“Get your clothes on,” Johnny hissed, turning, stepping over the unconscious from of his brother on the floor beside him and then bending down to scoop up the .45 caliber semi-auto off the floor. “Move!”
She dropped the sheet in front of her and leapt out of bed and hurriedly complied. Grabbing her rudely by an arm jerked her toward the door and then stopped. Half turning Johnny gazed down at the bloody form of his unconscious brother lying on the cheap, thread bare carpet of the hotel room. Black eyes filled with cold rage stared for a heart beat or two at his brother before he turned and, still gripping the arm of Darlene firmly, opened the door and walked out into the hall.
The hairy hotel clerk downstairs wasn’t around. The hotel lobby was empty. Stepping out into the monotonously falling rain no one was visible on the streets. No traffic moved. No dog or cat could be seen loping along. No one stood and stared out of the store front windows at the gray gloom that colored the world.
He tossed her into the passenger seat of his car, slammed the door shut, still gripping the semi-auto in one hand, and walked around the front of the car. Sliding in behind the steering wheel he slammed the door shut, laid the heavy weapon on his lap, started the car up and pulled away from the curb without saying a word.
Darlene stared with a drained face at her husband. She was visibly shaking in terror. Her red dress was haphazardly covering her braless and panty-less body. She was still a beautiful woman. Still desirable. As she sat in the seat beside Johnny her dress opened partially and showed the long sculptured perfection of leg.
Johnny drove. Drove and never glanced at Darlene.
Drove through the steady rain down empty streets and through the listless red lights of traffic lights. Driving. Driving out in the countryside. Down sloppy muddy roads. Past silent, lifeless, farmsteads. Deep into the country. Finally turning to drive down a road that paralleled the twin ribbons of a long forgotten rail spur.
Even before the car stopped he was out of the car and running around the front end of the car to throw open the passenger side door. Dragging his wife out by her hair, gun in hand, he pushed her toward the tracks. And kept pushing her until the two of them stood between the rails staring at each other.
“Kneel,” he hissed in that strange, quiet, but soul numbing whisper.
A wail of terror and damnation came out of Darlene’s mouth as tears streamed down her face. She stepped toward her husband, her clasped hands coming up in front of her face in a pleading gesture, and begged Johnny to forgive her! But coal black eyes and a passionless mask of Death stared at her with a kind of detached curisoity.
She fell to her knees, head bent down, eyes closed, unable to stop her wailing. She knew what was going to happen. Knew she was going to die. Knew a bullet in her brain was just rewards for being so madly in love not with Johnny . . . but with Russell.
Johnny, hand visibly shaking, tears of rage running down his cheeks yet masked by the rain pelting his face, lifted the big semi-auto up and pushed the muzzle of the gun into the stringy wet hair of his wife. Thumbing the hammer back—he knew a round was in the firing chamber—a finger curled around the trigger of the weapon. And . . .
He tried. The gun shaking in his hand. The kneeling woman crying loudly. He tried. He groaned. Tears and rain almost making him blind. And he tried.
Tried to squeeze the trigger. Tried to fulfill the raging desire to kill.
And then, with a muffled scream, he jerked the weapon away from his wife’s head, lifted it up to point toward the sky and thumbed the release that ejected the cartridge clip from the butt of the gun. It flew out into the rain and fell into the mud at his feet. Yanking the carriage back on the gun he ejected the lone round in the firing chamber and then angrily dropped the gun and shoved the muzzle into his wife’s hair and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the hammer falling on an empty chamber!
Angrily, screaming in rage, he pulled the carriage back again and yanked the trigger again.
The same motion. Click! And again. Click! And again. Click!
And then . . . .
Something happened to him.
Suddenly he was calm. Cold. But calm. No rage. No hate. No desire to kill Darlene. Cold black eyes stared down at the person that once was his wife and he felt no emotion whatsoever. None. Felt like ice inside. Cold . . . but comforting in the frigid coldness that gripped his heart. Totally emotionless.
Felt like a new man. Someone totally different.
Pulling the muzzle of the gun out of her hair he looked at the instrument of death in his hand curiously and then tossed it to one side. Without saying a word he stepped around Darlene and started walking toward the car.
Darlene, still crying violently and shaking like a leaf, hands clasped together and pressed against her lips, waited for the fatal bullet to come. She cringed violently over and over whenever the sound of the gun firing on an empty chamber came to her ears. Too engulfed in her own terror she did into hear the noise of anger and frustration that had forced itself out of her husband’s lips.
But when she felt the gun pull away from her head a second time she opened her eyes and stared out into empty, rain filled space. Stunned. . . surprised . . . momentarily speechless . . . she clamored to feet and turned to see her husband walking toward the car.
“Johnny! Johnny! Come back! Come back! I love you, Johnny! I love you!”
The man that once was called Johnny stopped, remained motionless for a second, then turned slowly and faced the woman that once had been his wife.
“There is no Johnny, Darlene. Not any more. From now on just call me Smitty. But Darlene, a word of warning. Run back to Russell. Be with him. Love him. The two of you deserve each other. So the two of you should be together. Have a happy life. But if I ever see you two again I will kill you both. Understand? I will kill you both.”
Rain . . . perhaps mingled with tears . . . ran down the dark eyed man’s cheeks as he stared at the women for a moment. Eventually he turned and walked to the car and climbed in and drove away. Drove away leaving the woman standing in the rain on an abandoned rail spur.
Drove away form a life that no longer existed. Drove away and disappeared into the gray mist of the falling rain. Never looking back.
Never looking back.