I got the text too early, way too early, giving me an indication that something was wrong. The content simply said – Be here tonight. Tony wasn’t known for his prose, so I wasn’t that shocked by the brevity. However, I was puzzled by its purpose.

With no margin for error, I set my plan in motion, making the necessary preparations throughout my workday. It was a bit of a risk doing it during regular business hours when either my bosses or my co-workers could uncover my illegal dealings. As an accountant for a mobbed-up owner of a gentleman’s club – amongst other shady operations, I took chances regularly.

The establishment was built from an abandoned warehouse in an industrial district of one of the seediest suburbs of Chicago. I had a day job at a steel company around the corner. In my spare time, I did the accounting for Tony; primarily by staying late at the office and using company equipment to perform the required tasks. Then I headed over to the club to drop off any necessary work and take in the sights.

I stepped inside the cavernous club and checked my pockets. In my right jacket pocket was a travel-sized can of aerosol deodorant, in my left a tiny lighter. I prayed that this would work in reality and wasn’t some special effects hoax, I got suckered into believing on YouTube. It was my only line of defense. My concern manifested itself outwardly as I made the sign of the cross and stepped through the front door.

I surveyed the club to make mental notes of the pathway for my escape. The outer walls were ringed by restaurant-style booths. A stage had been built in the center of the former warehouse and was surrounded by bar height tables and stools. To the right, was an aisle which was flanked by a freestanding bar.

I paid particular attention to the size of the walkway as that was my probable getaway path. Through the dim lighting, I could see a man who must have weighed over three-hundred pounds at the corner of the bar. This was of concern because he was partially blocking the passageway and I would need to navigate around him to make my way to the front door. I was extra tall and extra lanky with questionable agility, so I’d have to deftly steer away from him rather than bully my way through.

I took a deep breath and pulled in a substantial gulp of air that smelled strongly of beer and tasted a bit like perspiration. I was accustomed to the sensation, but it repulsed me just the same, perhaps my anxiety had heightened my senses.

I made my way towards my usual table at the back of the room near the doorway to Tony’s office. A topless Penelope sat there waiting for me with a piping hot burger and a side of French fries. Sex and food, two of mankind’s most basic needs relaxed me a little.

Dinner with a mostly naked Penelope was one of the few, if not only perk, I enjoyed working for the mobster. Tony referred to her as a 100 percenter. This was the utmost praise he could heap on one of his dancers.  Translated, it meant 100 percent of the patrons would find a given woman attractive. Unfortunately, there was only a handful of those in his employ, but it didn’t have a substantially negative effect on business.

My eyes walked up and down the petite, doe-eyed beauty. She had a girl next door face with a lingerie model body. The lethal combination of sweet and sin made her the club’s most popular attraction. In addition to her body, I benefited from a special friendship with her.

Rather than greet her, I took a large bite of the burger. It was a bit too hot and burned my mouth. It wasn’t the best tasting, but considering it came from a dingy strip club it was surprisingly edible.

“What’s wrong, Walter?” asked Penelope.

“Missed lunch,” I lied.

“That’s odd?”

“Not a typical day,” I said.

“How so?”

This was my aperture to tell her my plan. To take her away from this sordid lifestyle and start a new existence together. But I hesitated and my opportunity drifted into the grimy club air.

“What’s up?” said Tony approaching from behind. He slapped me on the back firmly causing me to jolt forward a bit, nearly choking on the bite of burger I was chewing. “I need to talk to you ASAP, got some important business for us. Finish that burger and get up to my office.”

This heightened my nervousness exponentially. I couldn’t even speak to Penelope. I took big bites with long chews, taking in her dark Latin skin as I chomped on the burger and fries.

“Done yet?” the question came a few minutes later, punctuated by another slap on the back.

I looked up at Tony while still chewing as an awkward silence ensued. He motioned for me to get up. I did so as I still munched on the dish.

“There’s a customer who wants to meet you over at the bar, darling,” Tony said to Penelope. He pointed to the three-hundred  pound man I had noted earlier. The man looked in Penelope’s direction, raised a drink and gave her a creepy smile. She stood up, gave me a quick wave, turned towards her mark and stretched her arms high above her head. This gave the man a clear view of her impeccable chest. She sure knows how to work it, I thought. She smiled broadly and walked purposefully towards her newly acquired customer.

Tony’s office was on the second floor of the old warehouse. It featured a window that gave him a view of the entire establishment, with the exception of the private rooms situated throughout the club. We ascended the long straight staircase without either of us saying a word. I was grateful that we were going up and not down. I had heard rumors but had no firsthand experience of a basement where some nastiness had occurred.

Tony took a seat at the bar style table with his back to the window, so he faced the door. It was an old mafia thing; never turn your back. There was a man already seated opposite Tony. He wore a cheap-looking; polyester Hawaiian shirt with several buttons undone revealing a hairy chest and some gold chains.

I studied him carefully. He didn’t appear overtly dangerous, but the best hitmen never did. They looked innocuous and smiled as they choked the life out of you. Asphyxiation was the preferred method of destruction for Tony’s monstrous crew. I stood a few steps from the pair.

“Pull up a chair,” said Tony, straightening his trademark track suit over his middle-age paunch.

“I’ll stand, sir,” I said tensely.

“Sir?” After a brief pause, he continued. “Ok, got a few things to go over with you.”

“Do I need a notebook? I left it in the car. I can run out and get it, sir.” Hoping I could escape without confrontation.

“Naawww,” Tony laughed. “You got a good memory. And why do you keep calling me sir?”

“In respect to our guest,” I said gesturing to the man seated opposite Tony.

“Our guest?” Tony laughed again. He took a quick look around the room. “Still looks like an office above a strip joint to me. When did we get so friggin formal?” he asked rhetorically.

I gave a wan smile in reply.

“I want to tell you about a little favor, I need from you,” Tony explained.

“OK,” I said feeling pressure start to build in my chest. I looked over to the man on Tony’s right, to check if he had a rope or plastic bag. I couldn’t see anything, but was concerned by his right hand jammed in his pants pocket.

“You owe me one, after what that little weasel you hooked me up with pulled.”

“Shemp?” I asked. Glancing over again to see if I could determine if the man had anything in his pocket.

“No, Al frickin Pacino,” Tony said in his best sarcastic tone.

“Let’s take him downstairs,” the man in the Hawaiian shirt chimed in starting to lift himself from the bar stool.

“Not yet, I want to talk to him first…

Tony’s speech was cut off as I pulled the spray deodorant out of my right pocket and pressed the button. I got my left hand with the lighter in front of it and to my surprise a cone-shaped flame, much more sizable than I had foreseen erupted from the combination. Unfortunately, I panicked and my aim, as well as my timing, were considerably off target. I missed both men and hit the curtains. These burst into flames almost immediately, catching the right sleeve of Tony’s hired muscle. I turned and ran towards the door. The screams coming from the man in the flowery shirt were overtaken by the retort of a small caliber handgun. I felt the bullet whiz past my right ear and heard it slam into the metal door. I reached the exit of the office and flung it open deep and wide. At the sound of another gunshot, I dove for the floor of the small landing, falling down several steps. I quickly righted myself and catapulted down the stairs two at a time. About halfway down, I heard another set of screams. These were clearly emanating from Tony.

I burst through the door and entered the main floor in a full sprint. A naked pole dancer, hanging upside down, high above the stage screamed and pointed toward the commotion taking place on the second floor. The club exploded into a frenzy of frightened employees and customers. I rounded the corner of the bar to make my way up the main aisle towards the front exit.  The three-hundred pound man who had been talking to Penelope lifted his bulk from the bar stool hitting me with a hockey-style hip check. This sent me sprawling across the floor. I slid towards the seating facing the stage. The guy sitting there had been enraptured by the action and was slow to react. I hit the lower portion of the stool full-force. He toppled over backward. There was a revolting thud as his head connected firmly with the ground. I scrambled to get up, but the blood was flowing like an open fire hydrant and had already made a substantial puddle. I found myself in a downward dog style yoga pose struggling to locate my footing. When my shoes finally caught a dry spot, I quickly got my legs under me and resumed my dash to the exit.

Remarkably, the crowd was moving out the door in an orderly fashion. I glanced over my shoulder to see Tony charging at me hard, despite half of him looking like a burger than had been forgotten on the grill. With his good hand, he raised his gun and pointed it at me. I felt as though I heard the hammer of the gun strike and the bullet being propelled towards me. But, there was no impact, as I shoved open the industrial style door and launched myself into the cool early evening air.

I ran in the direction of my car, passing the extremely underdressed Penelope. “C’mon,” I yelled as I reached my hand out to her. “Let’s get out of here.” She pulled her hand away from my outstretched arm, turned her head downward to avert eye contact and simply shook her head no. Panic trumped disappointment, so I pulled out the remote key and unlocked my charcoal gray Toyota.

I jumped in, quickly ignited the engine and deftly navigated the older foreign made vehicle through the growing crowd. The clink-clink of bullets smashing into steel cascaded through the twilight. The club was conveniently situated near a major expressway for easy customer access, but in this instance, it aided my escape. I hit the on-ramp and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

In a few short minutes, I reached the exit south towards St. Louis, as I changed highways; I pulled out my phone, punched up the map app, and entered the final destination. The time indicated four and half hours to arrival. I had chosen the far off airport for my breakout as Tony was likely to send a platoon of goons to both of the Chicago airports.

I yelled “Call Shemp.” into the voice-activated system of my phone and waited for an excruciatingly long-time for it to go through.

“What’d you do?” I yelled.


“I know you messed up. Tony was after me. Your name was mentioned.”

“Are you sure?” asked Shemp. “There’s no way he could have found out.”

As I started to respond, I noticed a car dangerously close to my tail.

“Found out what?” I asked, watching the rearview mirror.

“I took a couple of cases of cigarettes and sold them to this dude around back of the liquor store. Made a good buck off em,” replied Shemp.

“I told you he was a real life mobster with hitmen. I wasn’t exaggerating.”

I looked back again, but the car was no longer there. I looked out my driver’s side window. It was now running parallel to me.

“Didn’t think he’d notice a few measly smokes, all he’s got.”

“He’s not stupid. He watches everything. I would know. I’m his accountant,”

“Do you think he’ll come after me?” asked Shemp.

I slowed abruptly letting the vehicle pass, which turned out to be a mistake, because it changed lanes in front of me and jammed on the brakes.

“Absolutely, this gives you three choices,” I said managing to sound normal. “One, go to the FBI office on Roosevelt and tell them you need to go into witness protection.” I swerved into the far right lane, narrowly avoiding a big rig. “But be careful, Tony’s got a guy scoping it out.” I hit the accelerator and shot past the chase car. “Two, kill yourself by whatever method suits you best.” My pursuer, following me too closely struck the truck, ran off the side of the road and crashed into the guardrail. “Or three face Tony and his buddies. Trust me, you don’t want three.” The Interstate in front of me was wide open.

“You sound a bit odd, are you Ok?” asked Shemp.

“Doing great.”

“But, I don’t want to….

“You’ve gotta do something, NOW,” I said returning to my amplified voice.


Annoyed, I hung up, checking my rearview mirror to see if anyone else was in pursuit. The light was fading, making identifying the cars problematic. I shuddered any time one got close. This became worse as it got darker. It was impossible to tell who was coming. I assumed the police would be after me too, having caused full-on fire with at least two severe injuries.

I drove for a little more than an hour, mentally reviewing my plan. I had spent most of the day preparing incrementing documents. Just before I left I emailed them to three different FBI offices. For good measure, I sent one to the New York Times.

I saw a sign for a 24-hour roadside diner. I exited the highway and easily found a space in the mostly empty parking lot. Before getting out of the car, I looked at my cell phone. It indicated there were twelve missed video calls. I didn’t understand how, I missed them. The contact name read Penelope. I also had a text from her – where are you?

With an overwhelming sense of trepidation, I hit the redial button. I was more scared than confused as to why Penelope would call me after the brief encounter in the parking lot.

I wasn’t all that surprised to see Tony’s half-melted face pop onto the screen. He looked like he was wearing some type of ghoulish mask. I could tell he didn’t have much use of his left arm.

“You, idiot,” he roared. “I wasn’t going to do anything to you, except make you watch as my guys choked the life out of that dumb ass you told me to hire.”

“Couldn’t take the chance,” I replied confidently.

I was puzzled by the expression on Tony’s face. It looked like he was trying to grin, but couldn’t with his partially liquefied face. He stepped back from the phone, to reveal Penelope, seated backward in a dining room style chair. Her legs spread across the seat and tied tightly. The bronze-tinted skin of her naked back pulled taut. She turned her face towards the camera giving me a clear view of the abject terror in her seductive brown eyes.

“Help me, Walter,” she pleaded.

“I can’t, it’s too late.”

“Oh, you’re coming back here,” said Tony popping back into view holding a long metal car antenna.

“Do you want to see the damage I can do with this?” he asked with a slurred snarl.

With that he swung it hard, eliciting a scream from Penelope. I heard the sickening swoosh it made as it cut through the air.

“Get back here and I won’t hit her.”

“You won’t. You aren’t going to mutilate your cash cow,” I said as if I had just won something.

“Ain’t no more cow to cash. You saw to that,” Tony said. “Place is rubble.”

With that, he reared back and struck Penelope on her bare skin. She screamed before the antenna even made contact. The whip made a stomach-turning snap as it split the skin open diagonally across her back. Blood flowed in a river down her left leg forming a pool at the heel of her tiny foot.

Tony turned back to face the camera. “I’ll beat her until you get here, so you better hurry,” he said. “And, if you don’t care enough about your girlfriend. I got a couple of Cobra’s in San Diego and St. Louis ready to catch the Mongoose.”

I stammered trying to find the right words. I couldn’t comprehend how, he could’ve uncovered my plan. Tony tried to smile again.

“But…how… Did…”

“Got guys at the FBI and the Times, idiot.”

“I… Don’t… Believe… You…,” I spit out.

“You should’ve known, you pay em, stupid.”

“I.. Don’t.. Remember,”

“You’ve got one hour to get back to the club. Better hurry, whacking her was more fun than I thought,” he added sadistically.

I started the four-door and drove out to the highway. I hesitated for a moment, briefly considered leaving Penelope and continuing towards St. Louis, despite Tony’s threat. I might have a better chance eluding his thugs at the airport than going into that death trap. Thinking of the sobbing, screaming, Penelope, I took the exit back towards Chicago. I powered up the phone, tried Shemp and got no answer.

Tony could have taken her anywhere, but I had a hunch they were at Penelope’s house. They could have been in any of Tony’s thugs basements. I trusted my instincts and went with it.

I dialed 911 and told them there was an emergency at Penelope’s home address. As the clubs accountant, I had access to all sorts of information and home addresses of the employees was one of them. I had committed Penelope’s to memory. I cursed myself for overlooking his FBI contacts. It took some coaxing, but I got the dispatcher to agree to send an officer to her house.

The next hour or so, impossible as it seemed was more nerve racking than anything I had experienced throughout the course of the day. I gripped the steering wheel, so tight that my hand hurt. I could hardly use it.

I entered the small town, just across the Indiana border. As soon as I turned the corner onto Penelope’s street, I could see the flashing lights of a couple of squad cars, but otherwise the block was dead still.  I parked a few houses down from the Chicago-style bungalow where she lived. I was amazed that none of the neighbors were outside gawking at the spectacle. This was a rather quiet area and two municipal squad cars with lights flashing should have drawn a large contingent of onlookers. I was spooked by the silence. The only lights inside the house, appeared to come from the flashers on the police vehicles. As I approached, I understood the reason for the lack of a crowd. In front of one of the cars lay a dead cop. He looked as though, he was still in high school. His young eyes wide-open as if some sort of hideous mannequin, two bullets had torn through his throat rendering the bulletproof vest he was wearing useless. I scanned the windows of the two story building for a gunman or the other officer and saw nothing.

I cautiously walked up to the front door. My eyes sweeping the red brick house for some sign of danger. The was a large picture window to my right. It was intact, but only darkness behind it. The downstairs windows, were my main concern. There was one of each side of the door, I focused on each carefully, my head swiveling back and forth. The closer I got the quicker my pace, the last few steps were a run. I pushed the door open and stepped inside the modest dwelling. The smell of gunpowder, blood, and death filled the main room. I looked around and noticed a sliver of light emanating from a cracked open door that led down to the basement.

Without hesitation, I walked through the house, then descended the short staircase into the vast basement that ran the length of the underneath of the bungalow. The eery silence that had pervaded the area extended to the lower level of the house. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, I saw a middle-aged female officer with a number of wounds to her face and head laying at the bottom. She wasn’t moving or breathing. I stepped over her girth and pressed forward. The light was weak and I struggled to make my way through the catacomb like cellar. In the next compartment, a dead mobster lie below one of the front facing windows, an automatic rifle by his side. I hadn’t noticed it being shot out from the outside. It appeared the man may have bled to death as there was seemingly more plasma than one man could hold.

The soundlessness of the house and the dead bodies made me uneasy. I had the feeling that Tony must have bolted with the notion that the police would be back with enough firepower to take on ISIS and the anger to match. I was confident that I was the only living human being in the house, when I saw Tony standing to my right. Tony appeared to be as startled as I was and took a step back. I questioned my judgement for not taking one of the dead cops weapons.

Our eyes locked for an endless moment, without either of us being able to articulate our thoughts. My fight or flight response kicked-in, I choose both.

I reached down to my right hand pocket and was relived to find the aerosol spray deodorant still there. I prayed that the lighter was still in my other pocket. Miraculously, it was. But my previous attempt was hard evidence that accuracy was lacking from my skill set.

This time I decided to calm myself before striking. I took a deep breath and briefly closed my eyes. I raised my right hand into striking position, but couldn’t grip deodorant can. My hand still sore from the intense hold on the steering wheel during the drive, it fell to the ground. Tony lunged, I sidestepped him, kicking the bottle across the room. I ran in the direction of the can and found myself inside another room. This room wasn’t empty.

Directly, in front of me was Shemp handcuffed behind his back to the same type chair that Penelope had been. A plastic bag over his head kept in place by a bungee cord around his neck. He was motionless.

Then I heard the first sound, since entering home. Faint sobs came from Penelope. She was in essentially the same position as I had seen her during the video stream. The primary difference being that the blood had congealed. The wound looked even more grotesque in person. It was deep.

I turned and closed the door. I had a lock and I engaged it. Tony crashed against it. It bowed but didn’t open. Penelope turned her head at the noise. Her eyes widened at the sight of me. She still looked incredibly attractive. Tony rushed the door again. It held. I heard sirens way off in the distance. I didn’t know how long the door was going to keep him at bay.

“I need a weapon,” I said to Penelope.

“The antenna’s over there,” she cocking her head in the direction of a table in the corner.

I walked across the room, picked it up and went back to the door, ready to swing it if Tony bust through.

“Where’s the light?” I asked.

“Powers down,” Penelope said with a shrug of her bare shoulders.

Tony smashed the door again. The wood of the door splintered. The sirens were still faint.

On the next attempt, the door bust open. Tony came through and dove at me. I swung the antenna and connected, as he fell to the ground, but not as hard as I would’ve liked. I ran the the back of the room. The flashing lights reflected off a shiny object just above eye-level. Tony stood up and charged. I reach for the object, it was a can of some sort. I planned to smash him in the head with it, when I realized it was some type of cleaning product. The aerosol type. I grabbed it firmly, the wider can felt better in my grip. A burst of confidence rose in my chest.

The strange lighting was my friend as Tony didn’t see me raise the makeshift flamethrower.  I held the spray bottle steady and deftly placed the lighter in front of it. I flicked the switch before Tony could react, then pressed the button down, holding it long and squeezing it hard. This time, I was on target, hitting Tony directly in the face with a stream of fire. As Tony’s face burned, I thought of how all this started with a text, that shouldn’t have tipped me off, but did. I felt proud that I was able to diagnose the impending trouble and able to save myself, but saddened that I failed to alert Shemp and worse that Penelope got hurt. The sirens were close now. It didn’t matter. It was over. I got a clear view of Tony’s face as he fell to the ground. It was ugly, really ugly.