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A Tale from the Roaring Twenties

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“I’m telling you! The job was no good! The cops would’ve been all over it!”
Fiero sighed, blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke into the frigid night air. The club was louder and more rundown than he would have liked, which had been part of what drove him into the freezing outdoors. Then, Gilbert’s voice began to rise above the first and his frown only deepened.
He liked some good fun. He really did. But, he enjoyed having the skin of his back intact even more.
The problem would be dragging Gilbert away from the fervent discussion he was having about some bootlegging gone bad. Maybe, Fiero could just slip away and let Gilbert’s scrawny legs do some work for a change.
It turned out, he didn’t have to.
“Damn, Tommy is such a pushover it’s a wonder anyone would want him for anything,” Gilbert scoffed, strutting out to the railing where Fiero was.
“Anything interesting happening?”
Gilbert brought out a flask, took a swig, and then grimaced. “Ugh, no. All they have in there is hooch, and even that is worse than usual.”
Fiero laughed, low and short. “What’d you expect? Come on, let’s get going.”
He turned his collar up against the wind and started down the steps, taking them two at a time. He didn’t wait to see if Gilbert was following him, but sooner or later he’d make himself heard.
“Hey, Fiero, where we going?”
They were keeping to the sidewalk, but this part of town was poor and the buildings they passed were only looking more and more decrepit. Sometimes, even being armed wasn’t enough in these parts. Fiero had heard stories of guys disappearing in plain daylight and being discovered days later, beat up and without a penny to their name.
He lit a new cig- he needed it. “Where the car is, I couldn’t park it along the main drag. Someone would break in or…”
“Steal it?” Gilbert offered. There was a silence, before he guffawed. “That’s great, Fiero! I hope you hid it good, otherwise the old man ain’t going be too pleased.”
“I know.” He growled. He didn’t want to be reminded of the risk he’d taken- stealing his father’s Ford for the night out. “And that’s why we’re driving back before he realizes it’s gone.”
Fiero picked up the pace, images of broken windows and a rolled up belt urging him on. His companion hurried to stay with him with his shorter legs.
Something Fiero had said had cut through his half-drunken thoughts. “I’m sorry, man, but you don’t need to worry! The night’s still young! Why don’t we go somewhere copacetic?””
Fiero paused and looked back at Gilbert dubiously.
“Do you actually know a place like that? No dumb doras or bad liquor?”
“Well, I gatecrashed one once…”
He rolled his eyes and started walking again, when there was a tremendous clatter and they both jumped. Their gazes roved the shadowy alleys, searching for the source. Suddenly, something darted from behind a trash can.
Gilbert screamed and backed into Fiero, who pushed him off irritably. Then the pool of light from the street lamp revealed what it was.
A dirty black and white cat stared up at them, a crust of bread caught in its white mouth. It made a little ‘mmrf’ sound through its prize, before stalking off with its tail waving in the air.
“A cat?” Fiero raised an eyebrow.
Gilbert brushed off his clothes conspicuously and patted down his perpetually messy hair. “I’m not too keen on cats. Dogs are predictable, but cats… the devils! Ah, wait!”
Fiero led the way, ignoring Gilbert’s pleas to find another place to drink and turning down a familiar if darkened side street.
“It’s a shortcut,” he explained, guessing his companion’s question.
“Uh huh… yeah, that’s jake.”
Gilbert began to drag behind, but when Fiero finally turned to yell at him, the toe of his boot got caught on an empty bottle and he crashed into a pile of junk.
The resounding noise bounced off the narrow walls and alerted more than just rats to their presence.
“Who’s there?!”
Fiero froze for a moment before jumping into action. He leapt to Gilbert’s side and covered his mouth. “Stay very still.”
“Hey!”
“Oh, shut up already. It was probably another stray.”
They waited, but the voices didn’t go away, and that’s when they heard the whimpering.
Slowly, they rose and pressed against the walls until they could see around the corner.
“Holy s***.” Fiero muttered, as much for his bad luck as the scene before him.
It was a gang beating by the looks of it- one poor bastard surrounded by a trio of leering men armed with bats and lead pipes. They were talking to their victim, but too softly for Fiero and Gilbert to make out the words.
But, whatever it was was enough for the bloodied man to squeak with fear and shrink back against the wall.
Fiero watched with growing anger. The fear had been curiously absent since Gilbert had been out of danger, which he knew was bad, but couldn’t care less. Forget proper gang members- these were outliers trying to make a name for themselves. He allowed himself a chuckle. The guy they’d ensnared wouldn’t have enough money for a keg, much less enough to make a difference to any operation.
“Fiero? Are you listening to me?”
“What?” he glanced down at Gilbert in surprise.
He heaved a sigh. “What’s wrong with you? I said we need to get out of here!”
“I’m going to help him.”
Gilbert blinked, and then laughed nervously. “Help who? The muggers or the scrawny guy?”
“I’ll fend ‘em off, you can run.”
“You’re kidding! Oh god, you’re not kidding… wait I’m not going to leave you!”
Fiero turned to him with a wide grin. “Okay, you can be the distraction and grab the fall guy while I’m fighting them.”
“Nooo! And wait a minute, how do you know he’s their fall guy?”
He pointed at the bundle of money stuffed in the crying man’s coat. “They stole that from someone high up the ladder probably. He’s too poor to have that much money. So, he’ll let him get caught and keep a little extra to themselves.”
“Oh, I see… But, how do you know all that…?” But Fiero had crept forward and was already gesturing to Gilbert.
He didn’t have much experience in distracting criminals, but he gave it his best shot.
“Hey! Hey!” He waved his hands over his head wildly until he caught their attention. “Yeah you! I thought I’d tell you that the cops are on their way so you better scram!”
One rather large specimen took a step forward. “Who the hell are you? Do you want to be sent to an early death?”
“It’s early grave, you stupid bastard!”
Now, he had all their attention and the leader was cracking his knuckles.
Gilbert took a step back, saw an escape route, and then blew the loudest raspberry he could muster. He hightailed it out of there with, he hoped, at least one of them in hot pursuit.
As soon as Gilbert began taunting the goons, Fiero approached the fall guy. The man was too frightened to ask any questions when Fiero helped him up. Nor did he protest when he grabbed the sheaf of money and threw it as far as he could. Instead, he seemed grateful and ran off without another glance- which was a wise decision considering that was when the fists started to fly.
Fiero moved instinctively, and that combined with the men’s typical violent and predictable punches it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d thought it would be. But, after he landed a punch to one’s gut, it went downhill.
The man the size of a tank hollered. “Fiero! It’s been so long! Is this how you say hello?”
He answered by kicking the man’s legs out from under him, he crashed to the ground, but smiled through the blood in his mouth.
“Come now, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten us!”
Fiero didn’t pause; he merely pulled back his arm and brought it down hard. The glass bottle shattered on the gang member’s bald head and he slumped to the ground, knocked out cold.
“I never met you,” he scowled and stamped his cigarette butt into the dust.
Then he walked away, never looking back.
Gilbert greeted him enthusiastically on the side street. “I’ve never seen anything like that! You’re as hard-boiled as they come!”
“I thought you were going to run.”
His companion tilted his head, “I did, but then I came back after I lost the guy. And damn, am I glad I did!”
Fiero shook his head, but allowed Gilbert to continue his nonstop chatter.
Eventually, he found his way again and they stumbled out to where he’d parked the car.
He froze by the navy blue automobile, unable to comprehend what he was seeing.
Gilbert peeked over behind him. “What’s wrong- oh crap.”
The car was there yes, but all the windows had been shattered, probably by some drunk that got his hands on a crow bar.
“Uh, well, at least we’re still alive,” Gilbert offered weakly.
Fiero swallowed and grabbed the handle. The door creaked and clattered to the ground.
They stared.
“My dad’s going to kill me.”



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