Ghost In The Ruins, Chapter 7



“We are very pleased with you, Billy,” the head elder praised, “you have restored water to our planet of origin and possibly life.”

“Sirs,” he fidgeted uncomfortably, “if I may be permitted to speak.”

“Go ahead,” the elder nodded.

“I hesitate to agree with your desire to recolonize the planet,” he responded, “as the risk of there being a repeat of all that came to pass there is too great.”

“Oh?” The elder was now intrigued. “Is there evidence of the incident not being unique?”

“In many ways,” he nodded, “yes. Not that I have definite proof, but…”

“But you saw something that made you believe,” the elder finished for him.

“Yes,” he nodded again, “there is a massive wall like structure, something that looks man made, that stretches the length of the ocean basin we were first in.”

“An interesting anomaly,” the elder agreed, “one that makes me inclined to agree that mass resettlement may not be a viable option.” the elder peered at him. “So what is your solution?”

“We make Earth an animal sanctuary where wildlife can roam free,” he voiced, “and place a small scientific crew to oversee the sanctuary.”

“Interesting idea,” the elder smiled, “and is there more to this?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “we can clean up the lunar colony, tear down the original as it would be…unusable….then build a hostel or resort in its place where visitors who go to view animals in the wild can stay while there.”

“This is your project, Billy,” the elder announced, “we grant you permission to do all that you have suggested. But you must wait for at least eight days.”

“That is eighty Earth years,” he beamed, “correct?”

“Well,” the elder chuckled, “close enough to. It is about 400 Earth years. Long enough for the forests you planted to grow. Long enough for the climate to return to as close to normal as possible.”

“Thank you, sirs,” he bowed.

“You’re welcome, Billy,” the elder answered, then bent closer, “and you will be placed as management of this new sanctuary.”


“So what did they say?” His mother asked.

“They loved the sanctuary suggestion,” he bubbled happily, “and I am to be manager!”

“I am proud of you, son,” she smiled, “you have finally become an adult. Being given a charge is a sign that the elders see you as an adult. I believe the mission you were given was their test for you.”

“So I am to pick the science team?” He looked at her.

“Yes, son,” she nodded, a tear coming to her eye, “choose well.”

“What about those who have been caring for the animals in the preservation zoo?” He inquired.

“You will have to ask them if they would be interested,” she suggested, “but they would do as a starting point.”

“And you?” He pressed.

“I can only offer technical support,” she responded, “nothing more.”

“But we work so well together,” he objected.

“Yes,” she nodded, “but you need to find others you can work with. Others not of family.”

“Very well,” he was disappointed, “I shall. Wish you could go.”

“Son,” she began, “I have had my fill of Earth. It was a beautiful planet, but I do not want to live there. This is your destiny. Your opportunity to shine. Go. take hold of it and do not let go.”

“I will miss you,” he sniffed.

“And I, you,” she smiled sadly, “but I always knew that this day would come.”

“You always knew that I would leave?” He was surprised.

“We all must leave at some time,” she nodded, “and I knew that you were marked for greatness. Greatness that would not include me.”

“But,” he objected, “this was never the way I intended it to be!”

“It never is,” she shrugged, “especially when fate takes a hand in things.” She looked at him. “You were always destined to go back. From the first trip we took, that was to be your path. There was nothing I could do to stop it.”

“Couldn’t you have said something?” He inquired.

“No,” she confirmed, “it would have made you want it more. You would have pushed harder. And it would have driven you away from me more violently.

“I had to allow you to do as your destiny demanded. It was more natural. This is what is meant to be. Embrace it.”

“What of you?” He persisted.

“I will still be here,” she affirmed, “and I shall come and visit. Do not worry. And you may have a brother or sister. It is the way these things go.”


Billy selected a team. The conservation team agreed to accompany the animals to Earth and to remain there to study and preserve life in a more natural setting. The conservancy cubes were loaded into the largest ship he had ever seen. 

“What shall we call our ship?” Anders, the bug cat overseer, inquired.

“How about The Ark?” He asked, somewhat jokingly.

The Ark,” the scientist mused, “good enough for me.”

“Let’s get loaded up,” he looked at Anders.

“Yes,” the scientist nodded, “let us.”

Billy entered the ship with the science team. He stopped at the hatch and took one last look around. It would be the last time any of them would see Home.

They lifted off after the last conservancy cube had been loaded. The small loading/offloading crew remained aboard. They would return the ship after all was offloaded. 

That had been how he had set things up. They would load and unload the ship, then return Home with the empty ship. He would remain on Earth with the scientists.

He smiled sadly. In a flash, they would be over Earth. There, they would off load the animals according to their original continent. The Americas. Eurasia. Africa. Australia. 

The islands would receive their animals last. There would be fewer to offload. Fewer to get mixed up.

Behind them. A second ship lifted off. This one was loaded with a cleaning and colonizing crew. The lunar colony would be small, just enough to maintain the hostel. 

Their project would be the most important. It would establish a resort where people could stay while visiting the preserve known as Earth. It would ensure that there was little to no contamination of the preserve.


The Ark lifted off from Earth and vanished. Its departure symbolized the last chance of leaving the planet. Billy blinked away the tears.

What had begun as a research project had become his life’s work. He was now fully invested in returning Earth to its former splendor. There was no turning back.

He turned away from where the ship had been and vanished into the primal jungle. He would roam the forests and jungles from this point on.  

Prelude To Madness: Another De Luca Adventure

Prelude: So. Where Did We Leave Off?

It seems that things get crazier, the more sane you need life to be. Take my life for instance. I am your average hit man with your less than average family. I married my last target after our little gun battle with her husband and his Moll. The whole episode reminded me why I hated the small-time Mafiosos. All mouth, no brain. They think money rules everyone.

I haven’t taken on any more jobs since. I no longer have the stomach for it. We have disappeared, for the most part, from that life. De Luca has retired. I want nothing more than to live quietly with my new wife and our slowly growing family. Something I have always wanted.

She wanted one, too. But that monster she had been with only wanted to play the part of the Godfather. I am surprised he didn’t get whacked by his boss. I know I would have. Pricks like that don’t deserve the power they’re given.

Nine months after our marriage, which was a good three months after the warehouse incident, just long enough to appear as if she had mourned long enough, Philip was born. Cute little bugger. Well, actually, six months after we married. Hey. Nothin’ says we had to wait. And we didn’t.

But what we did is of no consequence. At least not what we did privately. In fact, that is of no interest in what I am about to relate. What is was the incidents that would alter the course of my retirement. As I said, I have not taken any jobs since the warehouse gun battle. But just because I no longer take on jobs don’t mean I ain’t a target still.

In fact, many wannabe clientele try to push me into jobs by threatening me with violence. Only makes me ignore them that much more. And they hate that. They hate it so much they actually try different things. I have had my car blown up, My house shot up, my mailbox rigged with explosives, and what have you. I had to laugh. Tactics used when I was working-the same tactics meant to keep me from fulfilling my jobs in the past-now became tactics to push me into taking jobs. Seemed you just couldn’t please people.

I felt insulted. They fought, so long, to get me out of the business. Now, they wanted me back. Just how far would they go? Perhaps I really didn’t want to know. But, like always, I would find out…whether I wanted to or not.

Still, I would enjoy the quiet while it lasted. However long it lasted. Knowing many of those wanting me back, that might not be for long. Then, again, Might take them forever. Who knew? They might’ve wanted to bore me to death.

OK, not really. I know, sarcasm is the sign of a bad sport. But I hate it when I am enjoying my life and someone decides that they want to ruin it for me. And I was enjoying myself. Maybe a little too much. But being a daddy does that to a sane man. And I was saner than I had ever been.

I loved waking up with a clear conscience every morning. I was overjoyed about not having to drink myself into oblivion every night. Hell. I was in heaven having someone who loved me as I was, warts and all. And having time to study the arts. I love the arts. Who knew I was so good at playing the guitar? I didn’t.

Anyway, I felt I had earned my respite. But many thought differently. Too many. Even the police began getting suspicious with my idleness.

Of course, one disgruntled wishful client is too many. And hundreds are the start of a small nightmare for any assassin. Including me. And I no longer had the heart for it. I’d had enough.

I no longer wanted to see another dead body for as long as I lived. At least not one I had killed for money. Self preservation was a totally different matter, though. I figured they come gunnin’ for me, I would be waitin’. Little did I know, I was going to have to defend more than my life, I would have to defend half the damn city as well. All because a small army thought I ought to kill again.

So This Is How Things Roll…

It all started on the coldest day in winter. Meucolo was a midsize Mafioso. I say midsize, because he still had a boss over him that also had to answer to the Godfather. His only problem was that he wanted to be the big boss. He hated being someone’s lackey.

It started with a letter. He had apparently put a lot of thought into his plot and sat down to put it into detail on a page, sending it to me. And he wrapped it all up in a request for my former services. But he had also apparently forgotten that I was no longer in the game…or an ally. Not that I had ever been an ally to him. I had not.

Hell. The only reason I had never turned him over for his past hits was the fact that there is always client confidentiality. And I was the only hit man who had such a thing goin’ when I was in business. Others would have sold his scabby butt to the highest bidder after the first high profile hit. I simply didn’t want to be responsible for a mob war. And I knew that there would be if I sold him out.

Now, I could care less. Except that I would unleash angry mob bosses upon an unsuspecting city, and I couldn’t do that to the innocent people of the metropolis. Not that they were all that innocent. They weren’t.

But a mob war was the last thing the city needed. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that there was going to be one anyway…by the time it was all said and done. Right now, though, I was in no hurry to stir that nest of hornets. Let the rumors stir it later. I was content in turning down a cool million.

I spent a lot of time on the rejection letter. I wanted to word it so as to make him understand that I was no longer a commodity. Hell. I wanted him to know that I was not even a threat. The idea was to make him realize that I was basically out of commission for eternity.

Unfortunately, My intents were met by his thick headedness. Thick, as in arrogant and pushy. Condescending. Irritating. Maddening.

Why stop there? Hell. He was just plain ignorant and insistent. Have I already mentioned how much I hated dealing with Mafiosos? They are the worst.

Especially the new breed. They have no sense whatsoever. They just want power and money. They don’t care how they get it. Kill. Steal. Selling illegal goods. Racketeering. Blackmail. Usury. Extortion.

I longed for the old days when they were just rum runners and extortionists. At least then, you knew where you stood with them. Not now. they were unpredictable. Almost to the point of being a holy nightmare. For everyone.

And now I had one of those nightmares bearing down on me, wanting me to pick up a gun and go hunting again. And I was in no mood to go hunting. Just the thought of killing made me sick to my stomach. Even though it would bring a cool mil.

Sure, I could use the mil. We could. But I was not interested in doing that anymore. I had promised Sara after we married, that I would never hire myself out. Although I trained her in the art, neither of us used it. She merely learned in case our enemies were ever to find out. Instead, we had started a bodyguard/private eye firm that went under S & D Services. We hired thirty other floaters and began taking on clients.

With hundreds of clients, we were not hurtin’ for anything. Unlike hits, it was a steady income and an honest trade. And I liked it better. Although we trained our staff the shoot-to-kill method, we also admonished them not to do so unless they had no other recourse. And usually, they never had to. Rarely, our gumshoes would have to shoot their way out of certain situations, but our guards were simply intimidating enough to dissuade any ne’er-do-well from their intent.

I had put the whole hit outta my mind after sending off my rejection that it surprised me when I arrived at the office a few days later to find Meucolo sittin’ behind my desk like he thought he belonged there. He was just gettin’ annoying now. Who did he think he was? I had not invited him in. I did not want him in my place of business.

“Nice family,” he smirked, “would hate to see anything happen to them. Gianni’s wife, right?”

“Git outta my chair and out from behind my desk,” I glared at him, “an’ don’t go about threatening my family. And that last bit ain’t none of your damn business.”

“I have my ways o’ findin’ out, De Luca,” he sneered,”Anyway, not here to talk about them. But the hit, that is another matter.”

He rose and walked around to where I stood, still glaring at him. He knew I was not scared of him and it bothered him. It was more than his little ego could handle. He gripped my shoulder and I looked at his hand, then continued glaring at him.

“There are other Hit men, Meucolo,” I stated coldly, “I ain’t in business anymore.”

“Yer in business because I said you were,” he retorted, “Besides.You are the only one who had that client confident-chiallity thingy where you wouldn’t talk.”

“You must have somethin’ wrong with your ears, Mack,” I turned away from him, “I said I was through. I don’t take orders from the likes of you. I never did. But, then, that is the problem with you Mafiosos. Always think you own everybody when you don’t. You may scare those weaker than you, but you don’t scare me. No one scares me. Not even the Don.”

“Maybe that’s yer problem,” he sneered, “You don’t scare.”

…And So It Begins

It irked me to find that Meucolo was unable to take a hint. I could have kicked myself for not training a replacement early on, but that would have meant adding to my competition. And I was out to be the best. And being the best meant being one-of-a-kind. And being one-of-a-kind had made me in-demand. Damn.

Still, I had to give him cudos for being persistent. But his idiocy was starting to get on my nerves. And the nerve! He thought he could intimidate me. Even though my reputation was of being unshakable. Unable to be frightened.

I could tell that there was going to be a showdown between him and me. Sooner or later, he would overstep his authority and try something stupid. I had to shake my head. What had possessed the Don to give this moron a position of authority in the first place? I wouldn’t have. In fact, I would have had him removed permanent-like. And quick. Can’t afford to have one of his kind even working for you. They soon try to have you killed so that they can have your position as well.

I picked up the phone. “Yes,” I began, “Don Carlo, please.”

“Bon giorno?” Came the Don’s voice.

“Yes, Don Carlo?” I returned, “This is De Luca. You have a slight problem.”

“What is it, De Luca?” He asked, “to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Don,” I began, “as you know, I quit doin’ hits. Now, I find one o’ your boys in here wantin’ a hit done. Not only will he not take no for an answer, he has the chutzpah to demand that I go back into business. I am not happy. I made a very special lady a big promise and I mean to keep it.”

“How is Sara?” The Don asked, genuinely interested.

“Fine,” I replied, “But your boy seems to think my family is a bargaining chip.”

“Which boy?” The Don asked.

“Meucolo,” I replied, “his position has gone to his head, and now he is aiming for a higher one. Don, you really need to take him down a peg or two or he will be gunning for your chair.”

There was a silence, then a deep sigh of disappointment. “Who’s he going after?”

“Manny Cuolo,” I replied, “I hated to hand the information over to you, but if I don’t do something, you won’t have an organization left.”

“I understand,” came the sad reply, “and what of your stance?”

“Don,” I reminded him, “I am not for sale anymore. I will only take action if action is taken against me. If my boys are made into targets, or my family, I will go after Meucolo. And anyone else who gets in my way.”

“I will hold a meeting with my guys,” came the sad reply, “and we will come up with a way to take care of the…problem. Give my god-babies kisses for me.”

“I will, Don,” I promised.

“And thanks for the warning,” the Don concluded, “I appreciate you not holding it back. We’ll see that you are protected.”

“Thank you, friend,” I replied.

“Don’t mention it,” he said, “Besides. You’re practically a part of the family.” He hung up.

I hung up my phone. I figured that Meucolo had possibly bugged it, but I had to risk it and alert my old friend. Now, I waited to see what reaction I got. I hooped that what I had done would cause the Mafioso to tread a bit more carefully. After all, my wife was the Don’s niece. You didn’t threaten, or even imply a threat, toward any of the Don’s family. It was a taboo. Almost a declaration of war.

I doubted that Meucolo would attack my clients or staff. That would be pointless. I was who he wanted, not them. He was determined to push me into breaking a promise, but failed to understand that love is stronger than the draw of money.

Gone With The Wind

I returned home to find a package on my doorstep. Good God! I was glad Sara had not picked it up and taken it inside. No telling what was in it. With a determined Mafioso, it could very well be a bomb. Had she taken it in, he could have blown the house sky-high.

I took out my pliers set. The one with the snippers. I carefully removed the lid. Slowly. Slowly.

After getting the lid off the package, I looked in. As suspected, it was a small, homemade bomb. Shit! There was no real trigger wire! Damn!

Now, what? What could I do but throw the damn bomb as far as I could? I looked around. The manhole! I made sure I wasn’t being watched, then lifted the cover. I dropped the bomb in and waited until I heard it splash down in the sewage. Then I returned the cover to the manhole. Then ran. Fast.

There was a small explosion that turned half dozen toilets into fountains for about two hours, then all went quiet. I heaved a sigh of relief. The first attempt. Luckily, it was a dud.

I went inside. “Honey, I’m home!” I called out.

“In the loo,” came the reply, “something strange has happened, and our toilet has become Ol’ Faithful.”

I tried not to laugh. I went in to take a look. “I hope you weren’t sitting on it when this began,” I mused.

“No, Babe,” she responded, “I was actually getting ready to clean it out, but hadn’t begun. Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” I replied, “Woulda been a nasty surprise is all.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “It would have. What exactly do you know of this? And what was that sound?”

“I don’t know much about this,” I stated, gesturing to the toilet, “But the sound was just a reminder of a disgruntled wannabe client.”

“What kind of client?” She asked, turning to face me.

“Remember the letter?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, then shock registered on her face. “Oh my God!

“Don’t worry,” I tried to comfort her, “I called the Don. He now knows. Said he would deal with it. But until he does, we will have to put up with the determined proddings of a dense Mafioso.”

She collapsed into my arms, weeping. I knew that she was worried. I was too. But I would not be scared into submission. Nor would I allow an idiot to endanger my family. I went to the closet and found the gun-safe that held my Rugers.

“No,” she touched my arm, “you mustn’t.”

“I am only going to start wearing them,” I consoled her, “and keep them loaded for self defense. I ain’t goin’ back to that life. I promised you. I will not stand by and let a man–no, a monster–threaten my family.”

“Then I will begin wearing mine as well,” she stated.

“Just make sure you do not accept any packages that you have not ordered,” I replied, “and even those you might have. You never know what Meucolo will do.”

When At First You Don’t Succeed

I took my restored Edsel to storage. No need to allow them to destroy three years’ work in their stupidity. I took the old warhorse, my old Caddy, from storage. I knew well that they would probably destroy her, but I was willing to retire her in that fashion. She had been a good car.

In the mean time, I would look for an old government issue armored Caddy to replace her. Should the need present itself. And I knew it would. It always seemed to when there was an idiot involved.

And who knew how many more idiots he had working for him. Knowing him, as I did, he had at least six blindly loyal henchmen. One would be the bomb maker. One would be the heavy. Maybe two. And the others were his lackeys.

They roamed around doing his errands for him. Extorting the money. Selling his drugs and hot merchandise. Fencing what goods he knew he couldn’t sell himself. Running his rackets. Blackmailing whoever he decided needed to be blackmailed.

Or plain trying to terrorize me. And I was getting tired of it. Things had gotten serious. Too serious. He had gotten careless.

And all because he thought he had the right to force me back into the business that I had left behind. I may have been a patient man, but I was swiftly running out of patience. If he thought he was being funny, I was not amused. I did not like being toyed with.

I pulled the car up outside the house and got out. I went back inside. I was gone for less than a minute. But that was long enough for them to plant their next bomb.

I drove down to the pier to take care of some business. Getting out of the car, I went to the warehouse where I had a meeting. A short time later, the car exploded. I shook my head. Would he never stop?

“Need a ride, Boss?” Tommy, one of the men at the meeting asked.

“Seems that way, Tom,” I replied.

“Have a pest problem?” He grinned.

“Yes,” I nodded, “one that just doesn’t take a hint. That makes his second attempt.”

“Need help dealin’ with them?” He motioned as if the problem was just outside the door.

“I may need some soon,” I averred, “but not right now. Thanks anyway.”

“Well,” he concluded, “when you do need help, lemme know. I’ll crack a few skulls fer ya.”

“Thanks, Tom,” I smiled, “I will call on ya when I need ya.”

He gave me a ride home after the meeting. I thanked him, and went inside. This was getting old really quick.

“I wish Meucolo would just vanish,” I muttered.

“What happened this time?” Sara asked, looking up from her book.

“They blew up the Caddy,” I replied, disgusted, “and I don’t have anything to replace it. Yet.”

“Well,” She smiled up at me, “at least we still have each other. So what is your thoughts on this?”

“I am going to be forced into a showdown with him,” I looked at her, “Sooner or later. Probably sooner, if he keeps blowing shit up.”

Try, Try Again

I lay in bed beside her, mulling over the whole affair. This was just ridiculous. Nobody could be so damn stupid that they couldn’t take no for an answer. Nobody. Okay, almost nobody.

Meucolo was an exception to the rule. His mama should have aborted him and saved the world some heartache. Even his teachers gave up trying to teach him anything. All he did was mooch until he felt that he could do the job of his boss, then he would hire a killer to get rid of his boss. And that was why he had sent the letter to me. He had mooched enough to weaken his current overlord and wanted me to do the hit. And I had refused.

So now, I was battling his demented little attempts to get me to do what he wanted. Suddenly, it hit me. I got up and went down to the housekeeper’s room.

“Sedelia,” I called, “Can I speak with you for a moment?”

“Sure, Mr. Rothschild,” came the answer, “Just a minute.”

“Just come out into the hall when you are decent,” I admonished.

“yes, Sir,” she replied.

There was a rustling of garments, then she emerged.

“Can you do me a favor tomorrow?” I inquired.

“Why, sure, Mr. De Luca,” she nodded, “what can I do for you?”

“I need you to take a message to the Don,” I began, “I need him to meet me here. with as many of his people as possible.”

“But why don’t you just call him?” she asked.

“Because I don’t know whether the person involved has bugged the phones or not,” I replied, “besides. You will have a chance to go visit your sister. She does still work for the Don, doesn’t she?”

Sedelia nodded. Then smiled. “Thank you, Sir.”

“You’re welcome, Sedelia,” I answered her.

I watched her go back into her room. Then I returned upstairs and climbed back into bed beside Sara. she rolled over.

“Where’d you go, Baby?” She asked.

“I asked Sedelia to go to the Don’s tomorrow,” I answered, “I need to talk to him.”

“OK,” came the muffled response.

I lay back down on my side, cuddling up against her, and put my arm around her. She pulled my hand down and took it in her own. We drifted off to sleep.

Mail came early. I stood at the door and watched as the mailbox was tuned into a rocket by yet another attempt to press me into service. I shook my head. Would he never give it a rest? I doubted it.

“I hope the light company ain’t worried about getting their payment for a while,” I quipped, “Because I think the bill just got sent into orbit.”

As I stood there, Sedelia squeezed by me. I watched her disappear in the direction of the Don’s mansion. I felt bad, putting her in harm’s way. But there was no other recourse.

It was ten when the Don finally arrived. I had already found the letter from Meucolo and had it laid out, waiting. My old friend sat down facing me. I saw the worry lines on his face. They seemed deeper. More pronounced.

“I assume this is important,” He began.

“Yes,” I responded, and motioned to the letter, “There is the letter I received about a week ago from Meucolo. With it is my response.”

“Let me take a look at it,” he replied, leaning forward and gently taking hold of the papers, “mmmhmmm. Mmmmhmmm. I see Chico won’t be happy.”

“Chico?” I inquired.

“That is Mario’s nickname,” he replied, “Just like we call Niccolo ‘Nico’. And seeing how Meucolo is wanting them both dead, That is not a good thing. I wonder if they know.” He looked up at me.

“I doubt it,” I shrugged, “I don’t know, though.”

“You didn’t tell them?” he peered at me, studying my every reaction.

“No,” I admitted, “Because I refuse to do the hit.”

“Good man,” came the response.

“But I am telling you.” I smiled sadly. “I am also telling you that I am getting tired of Meucolo’s stupid bombs. I want him to stop.”

The Don shook his head. “I’m afraid that there is only one way to stop him and his crew.”

“That is?” I inquired.

“You are going to have to take him out,” came the response, “I have already warned him to cease and desist.”

Damn. That had not been the answer I wanted. I had wanted the Don to promise to break Meucolo’s arms and legs. But instead, he put the responsibility on my shoulders.

“Alright,” I relented.

“Of course,” he continued, “his refusal to listen is a declaration of war as well. We will handle his crew, but we will need your expertise. Your gun.”

Sara walked in to hear the last part of the conversation.

“No more hits, Uncle,” She objected.

He smiled at her. “No, no more hits. this is a war, Honey. All hands are needed. Even yours. The two of you will have to face Meucolo. This is not a hit, but rather, a fact of your survival. And mine.”

Down In The Boondocks

It took a week for the Don to track Meucolo down. When he found him, he was in the slums. Of course, he had a girl there…Susie, I believe her name was. Just another crack whore he used for his own fix, while she paid him for the rock he supplied her. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that he also used the shit. Explained his erratic behavior. And his peculiar twitches.

Marco, Luigi, and Simon were the only hoods still with him. Simon being the bomb maker. Philo, Ricardo, and Dom were nowhere to be found. They must have been his runners. NO matter.

Sara and I entered the small apartment. His girl remained where she lay as he launched himself off the bed toward his shotgun. My guns flashed from their holsters and spewed their lead. I emptied both clips into him as he kept comin’. Sara took out Marco. The Don took out Luigi. Simon took his gun and stuck it in his mouth, pulling the trigger. He’d always been a coward, preferring distance to face-to-face.

It was all over in a flash. The cleaner came and removed the bodies and cleaned up the blood, making the apartment look as if nothing had happened. Sara had noticed, through it all, that the crack whore had not moved. She checked for a pulse.

“Damn him,” she uttered, “Gave the bitch an overdose. Barely alive.” She took out her cell phone and called 911.

While she was on the phone, the Don and I parlayed a deal. I would do his investigations and supply him with a couple bodyguards, and he would never ask me to pull a job. It was a perfect deal.

“If I supply a guy,” he began, “Would you train him to do hits like you used to?”

“Under one condition,” I smiled.

“What’s that?” He asked

“That he never be used against me,” I replied.

“You know I would never use anyone against you,” he replied.

“I know you wouldn’t,” I nodded, “but you would have to make it known that no one else could either. Especially after these last two weeks.”

“Luc,” He assured me, “I would be the only one who had access to his services. No one else would have the chance.”

Bonus Story # 1: “A Ride In the Wrong Cab”

I don’t normally ride in cabs. Never really need to. Usually, I am familiar with my surroundings enough to get where I need to go by foot. But I had never been to Baltimore, and so I was forced to take my very first cab. Who knew it would also be my last.

It wasn’t bad enough, with it raining and storming as it was. But to add insult to injury, when I opened the cab door, I got a strong sense of foreboding. Still, even with a tug of hesitation, I got in just to get out of the storm.

“Where to?” A hollow, almost dead, voice asked from within the hooded cloak that sat up front.

I looked at the driver’s ID. Grimm, it said. Grim, indeed. I shivered and looked out the window. In all my acquisitions, I had never encountered such a scene.

I would have laughed if it wasn’t for that instant sense of dread I felt emanating from the front seat. That persistent chill continued to walk up and down my spine.

“Tattle Tale Books,” I replied, “Since when does Death drive a cab?”

“You realize,” his hollow voice began, devoid of any emotion, “that there is more than one of us, don’t you?”

“No,” I responded, “I was taught that you were-you know-like God. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. Everywhere like the air.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but Death is a job that requires an army. One could never be everywhere at all times. After all, there is a death every second at every point in the world and one could never be in all places at all times.

“But, to answer your question, yes, Death always drives a cab. It is a mandatory job so that we are always able to show compassion and understanding. We also learn how to differentiate between the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Some of us tried working in hospitals, but found that we usually scared the patients to death. Many before their time. So, we were banned from the medical profession.”

I was beside myself. “Oh.”

there was an awkward silence for at least five blocks. Then, as if nothing happened, we began talking again.

“Wanna know my favorite clients?” He was eager to share.

I smiled. “Sure.”

“I think the ones I like going for the most are the corrupt. They tend to believe that they can buy their way out of dying. But, like everything else, we are forbidden to take bribes. The last Death that took a bribe has been in hell for the last millennia.” He turned the car toward my destination, then continued. “Criminals and politicians are my second most favorite. Lawyers come in third. I hate going after little old ladies, though. They are almost always such sweet people, and so giving! I also feel bad about going after children. They are always so innocent.”

“What about men?” I was now interested in his thoughts.

“No, can’t say as I have a problem with most adults. Although it depends on their age and what they have done with their lives.” He chuckled at some private joke. “The more violent or the more they have wasted their lives with nonsense, the more eager I am to do my job. Why allow someone to waste perfectly good living with mindless drivel?”

“I see.” I was now regretting asking.

Another awkward silence followed for several blocks, ended by the sharp odor of brimstone.

“My apologies,” my cabby’s hollow voice mumbled, “burritos always give me gas.”

“I didn’t know you ever ate!” I exclaimed.

“Oh yes,” came the answer, “just not as often as I would like.”

“But you’re nothing but bones!” I exclaimed in awe.

“Now you know why,” came the cool, hollow answer.


It had taken an hour for us to reach my destination. For the first time, I had never been so glad to get to where I was going. The second I stepped from the cab, the feeling of foreboding lifted from my shoulders and I suddenly felt a sense of relief. I turned back to the cab, despite my urge to run away as fast as I could.

“How much?” I asked.

“One hundred-fifty dollars even,” came the hollow answer.

“Kind of high, ain’t it?” I asked.

“Hey, Mack,” he answered, “I just read the meter. I don’t tally the cost.”

“Fair enough,” I replied, I handed in the fare. “Here.”

“Take care, Now,” he replied, taking the fare from me, “and thank you for riding along. I will see you in another sixty years, if you behave.”

I withdrew my arm and turned toward the publishing house I had acquired, then turned to wish him a good day. But I found he had vanished into thin air. I shook my head. Never again would I ride in another taxi. I had seen my fill of them with that single ride.