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Duke Pachinko lay propped against the watt, a dripping red sponge where his face used to be. He wouldn't bother anyone again.
The blonde looked at the body, and then she looked back at me. Her eyes narrowed and her lips parted. Her tongue darted out of her mouth and moistened her lips. She reached out and took the gun from my hand. Her fingers closed around the barrel and moved up and down its length, caressing it slowly. Her skin looked very white against the blue-black metal. She raised the gun to her mouth. Her tongue came out again, and she ran the tip of it lightly along the barrel. Her mouth formed a moist circle and closed over the end of the gun. She kept her eyes locked on mine the whole time. Her eyes were slightly slanted and blue like those of a Siamese cat. Her breathing deepened.
She tossed the gun aside. She put her hands around my wrists. She slowly raised my hands and placed them on her breasts. At my touch, a brief cry escaped from her throat. Her breasts were firm and heavy beneath the thin silk of her dress. She wore no bra, and I could feel the temperature of her flesh rising behind the cool fabric as her breasts seemed to swell. She pressed herself against my hands. Her nipples grew hard in my palms.
Her breath was coming in deep shuddering gasps. I put my hands at the neck of her dress. A quick pull, and the silk tore apart with slithery ripping sound. The blonde moaned low as her dress fell around her ankles.
I stepped back to look at her. She was something to see. In a few years all that beautiful flesh would begin to sag, but right now she was as firm as a marble statue and as juicy as an overripe peach.
She stepped out of the remnants of her dress and walked across to me, moving like she was hypnotized, her eyes fastened on the bulge in my trousers. She undid the button at the waist and pulled down the zipper. She put her hand inside my pants. She gave a long sigh when she found me. I was huge and hard and burning hot. I ...
* * *
I closed the book and put it down on the bench beside me. I really didn't need to read stuff like that. It wasn't that sex offended me; it was just that I couldn't see the point. After all, I was nearly seventy-eight years old, and I hadn't had an erection for five years. Hell, if my own fantasies couldn't get me up, I couldn't very well expect results from those of some pseudonymous hack.
I thought about the blonde fellating the gun and I smiled. If the detective had just finished emptying it into the face of Duke Pachinko, the barrel probably would have been uncomfortably hot to touch, not to mention the coating of machine oil that would have been on it. A mouthful of blisters and four-in-one wasn't my idea of an erotic sensation, but maybe the blonde knew something I didn't.
I turned to face the sun. I unbuttoned my shirt, revealing a seventy-eight-year-old chest with scraggly gray hairs covering half a dozen ugly scars—not a pleasant sight, but I didn't care. One of the few advantages of getting really old is that people don't talk to you. They cluck and they say, "Look at that. Isn't that disgusting? That old fart should be put away." But unless you go around waving your schlong at school kids, they keep away from you. They're probably afraid that old age is contagious.
A fair number of women had once liked my chest, scars and all, but that was a long time ago. It must have been three decades since I'd received a compliment. At least I wasn't fat. When you got old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I had gotten dry.
Actually, considering that I was seventy-eight, slightly arthritic, and often insomniac, I wasn't in too bad shape. My health was pretty good, no major problems. My stomach acted up from time to time. My doctor at the clinic—a thirty-five-year-old with a weight problem, ulcers, fallen arches, a smoker's cough, and dandruff—told me to stop eating spicy food. Since that was one of my few remaining real pleasures, I usually ignored the advice. I also often regretted having done so, but what the hell. If I were going to go, a lethal chile verde seemed as good a way as any. "J. Spanner: Suddenly, in the night, from an exploding burrito." I could go along with that.
I exercised a fair amount, mostly walking, and I lifted some weights to keep up the strength in my arms. My muscles had shrunk, but they still almost worked, which was more than you could say for most of the people waddling around. Christ, a trip to the beach revealed so much excess weight that I was surprised the country didn't overbalance and tip into the sea.
Oh, I was a tough old bird, all right, as I once overheard someone say about me. Since I had just told that person to fuck off, I'm not sure it was meant as a compliment, but I took it as one. In fact, however, except for my nose, which is prominent and rather beaky, I thought of myself much more as a lizard. My skin was dry, and a lot of time in the sun had given it the color of old leather. Like a lizard, I thrived in the sun—the hotter, the better —and I didn't feel very good if the day turned cool or damp. I'd sit for hours, my shirt open, hardly moving, soaking up that warmth. I didn't even sweat any more, no matter how hot it was. Yes, I was very definitely saurian.
I always liked hot climates, and the older I got, the more I found I needed the heat. Summers in L.A. were fine, with the temperature often getting over a hundred in the sun, but the winters were starting to give me trouble. Even when the weather was good, it would feel too cold. I'd have liked to be able to move to Mexico or somewhere tropical, but my finances didn't permit it.
Finances. Shit. The ever-increasing erosion of my little bit of capital could hardly be dignified by that word. I was still managing to get by okay—at least I wasn't yet shoplifting or eating cat food—but nothing more than that, and I didn't know how much longer it would last. Somehow or other, I had gotten myself into the position that if I didn't die soon, I'd be broke. Well, I'd worry about it later ... which was probably the attitude that had gotten me into this situation in the first place.
I stretched my neck like an iguana and felt the sun on my forehead, which, for the last thirty years, had extended to the middle of my skull. The park I was in wasn't much more than a strip of brown grass next to and overlooking one of the huge, dry, concrete-lined canyons that are called rivers in L.A. I couldn't quite see the boxlike monolith of the May Co., but I could hear and smell the cars in the Sears and J. C. Penney parking lot. A real wilderness area.
There were some kids playing baseball across the park from me. There were white kids and black kids and Chinese and Japanese and Mexican and a couple I wasn't sure about. That was something you wouldn't have seen even ten years ago. Lots of people didn't like it; but then, lots of people are assholes.
There was a group of older kids sitting under some sad gray trees that didn't seem to be coping with exhaust fumes very well. What did? The kids were passing a joint around, and even though they were giggling, they didn't look very happy.
I watched as an immense shiny black limousine moved slowly along the road that ran next to the park. The road eventually ended up in the parking lot, and I figured the limo's owner had just come from picking up the weekly special at Thrifty Mart, spending three bucks on gas to save thirty-nine cents on razor blades. The car had those dark one-way-glass windows, and it looked more like some sleek experimental submarine than an automobile.
It glided to a stop directly opposite me and about fifty feet away. I couldn't see inside, but I had the feeling I was being watched. Maybe the chauffeur was going to get out and tell me that his employer—a wealthy elderly widow—admired the depth of my tan, and wanted to set me up in a villa in the Bahamas.
The chauffeur didn't get out, but the back door opened. A thin, very tall figure unfolded itself from the backseat. He wore a black three-piece suit, a brilliantly white shirt, a dark striped necktie, and heavy dark glasses that made his narrow face look like a death's head. It could have been a Madison Avenue version of the Grim Reaper.
When he took a couple of steps toward me, I suddenly realized that I wasn't far wrong. Instead of the benevolent dowager I had momentarily fantasized, I was seeing a ghost. A ghost who I didn't think would be especially friendly.
One of the reasons I'd made it to seventy-eight was that I usually had a good sense of when to bow out. This looked like one of those times.
He was still some distance from me, so I stood up casually, making like I hadn't really noticed him, and started to walk away. I planned to walk north through the park. The limo was pointing south, and there was no place nearby for it to turn around, so that took care of the car. If the guy followed on foot, I was going to go across to the parking lot, and then into the shopping center. If I didn't shake him, I wanted to be sure there were lots of people around when we met.
"Hey, Jake!" he called. "Wait up."
I didn't turn around, but started to walk faster.
He called my name again. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that he was starting to run. With his coat flapping behind him and his long arms and legs working, he looked like a great black stork trying to lift off the ground. I started to run.
I said I was in pretty good shape, but that was relative. Even though my body still more or less functioned, it didn't mean I was ready for a cross-country run, and I hadn't gone very far before I started to feel lousy.
I looked back. He wasn't moving any better than I was, but his legs were longer, so he gained a little with every step.
I ran by the dope-smoking kids, who laughingly shouted encouragement. We must have looked funny, all right, two old coots, gasping and flailing along. Inside, I felt like I was racing like the wind, but I knew from the outside that we must have seemed like a slow-motion pantomime.
Ordinarily, you wouldn't notice it, but there was a slight upgrade to the park. Now it felt like a forty-five degree slope, Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. My legs grew heavy and my chest burned. The air seemed viscous, resistant, like I was running through molasses. The pounding of my heart was all I could hear. It sounded like death approaching. I figured I had gone all of fifty yards. Old age sure is swell.
I turned my head to look back, my foot caught on a sprinkler, and I fell on my face. I tried to get up, but my legs were leaden jelly, so I rolled onto my back and waited.
He came up and stood over me. He put his hands on his knees, taking deep breaths. We panted at each other for about five minutes. Every so often one of us tried to say something, but nothing came out. Finally, he managed some intelligible sounds.
"What were you trying to do, Jake, give us both coronaries? You stupid son of a bitch."
"Hello, Sal," I said.
His name was Sal Piccolo. In the old days, he'd been known as Sal the Salami, because of the size of his sexual organ. I didn't know what he was called these days. I couldn't place it, but somehow I had the idea that he was supposed to be dead. On the other hand, at my age you naturally tended to assume that most of your contemporaries were dead, so maybe that was how I'd gotten the idea. In any case, I wasn't exactly pleased to be wrong.
"What'd you run for?" Sal said.
"You know very well why I ran."
"What? You don't mean that—"
"Yeah. I mean exactly that."
"But that was—what?—forty-two, forty-three years ago?"
"Come on, Jake. I'm seventy-five now."
"So you think I still hold that grudge?"
"Why not? You always were a vindictive bastard."
Forty-something years ago, Sal Piccolo was a hell of a lot more than a vindictive bastard. He was very nearly The Man. He'd managed to get a pretty good-sized piece of most of the rackets in town. There was very little he didn't have a finger in, and even less that he didn't know about. He had a good thing going for himself, but—naturally—he wanted more, and eventually he wanted too much. He tried to muscle his way into a large interest in one of the studios. The studio boss was an old-time New York street fighter who wasn't about to put up with any shit like that, and he hired me to muscle Sal back out. Not only did I get him out of the studio, but I got him into prison for a good long stretch. Obviously, Sal wasn't very happy about that turn of events, and—in true Hollywood fashion—swore he'd get me.
He very nearly kept his promise. One of his boys, an eight-foot-tall monster named Dinky O'Grady, came after me with a meat cleaver. Dinky had arms like a gorilla and a brain the size of a walnut. He gave me two of the worst scars I carry, and I gave him a third eye in the center of his forehead.
That's the kind of stuff that's known as the good old days. Shit.
Sal had been strictly an independent, and when he went up, his organization didn't last very long. Some well-connected boys from back East came out, divided up his action, and that was that. None of the new guys had anything against me, so I was able to stop ducking for cover every time I heard a car backfire. In the last forty years, I probably hadn't thought about Sal Piccolo more than a handful of times. But I figured he'd thought about me a lot more. He'd certainly had plenty of time for reflection. And now there he was, smiling over me like a grinning skull.
"If you're going to do it, do it," I said. "I'm not going to beg or squeal or whimper. I'm too old and too tired. I want to live as much as anybody, but if the last few years have been any indication of what the next few will be like, you won't be taking anything very valuable from me."
"Not like you took from me, you mean?"
Sal smiled and shook his head. "Same old Jake Spanner. Hard as nails, and never give an inch."
"This is the old Jake Spanner, not the same one. But why don't you just get it over with, okay?"
I wasn't quite as bored as I sounded. In fact I was scared, but I was also damned if I was going to play mouse to his cat. Given the choice, I'd. always tried never to give any satisfaction to assholes. A few years earlier I might have been able to perform some nifty physical move to get myself out of this situation, like kicking him in the crotch and then stomping on his face, but now that was out of the question. About all I could still do was to diminish his pleasure by acting cooler than I felt.
Sal shook his head again. "You really think I came here to kill you?"
"It wouldn't be the first stupid thing you've done."
A spasm of anger contorted his face, but he quickly regained control. In the old days, Sal, like most people who usually got their own way, had had a short fuse. He still seemed to, but now there was also more control than I remembered.
"Thirty years is a long time," he said.
"That how long you did?"
"That's a long time." I looked up at him standing over me. "But maybe not long enough."
"It was long enough, Jake. For the first ten years, I thought about you all the time. I hated you more than I ever hated anyone or anything. Each night I went to sleep thinking about what I would do when I finally caught up with you. My hatred was the thing that kept me going. I wanted to make you suffer the way you made me suffer."
"I didn't do it to you, Sal. You did it to yourself."
Even as I said it, I groaned inside. Shit. Sal bad made an honest expression of what he had thought and felt, I had made an honest reply, and we both sounded like we were mouthing dialogue from some hideously bad movie. I could hear the hoots of laughter coming from the darkened theater. That was the problem with trash: not only was it awful in itself, but it also made perfectly legitimate ideas and feelings seem ridiculous.
Sal, however, seemed untroubled by the aesthetics of the scene, as he slowly nodded his head. "It took me ten years to realize that."
"You're right. I'd been stupid—stupid and greedy. I finally saw that you weren't to blame. I was."
"You got religion?"
"No, not religion. You might say I got ..."
He paused, searching for the right word, and I was certain he was going to say "self-knowledge."
"... I got self-knowledge," he said with absolute seriousness.
Under the circumstances, I thought it best not to laugh. Instead, I said, "Oh?"
"Yeah. I had a lot of time, and I used it. I changed, Jake ... What's the matter? You look like you don't believe me. Don't you think a man can change?"
Excerpted from The Old Dick by L. A. Morse. Copyright © 1981 L. A. Morse, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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