New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Paying for Pain

Henry Shevlin didn’t like Las Vegas much and he didn’t like the way his life was going. But he was the type to do anything for a friend. It was Duke Santoro who liked the town. Off and on, Henry had been living with Duke for three years and had known him a couple years more in stir.
They shared a room in a rundown courtyard motel at the north end of the Strip where it turns kind of sleazy. The bed was near the window overlooking the cars in the courtyard. Henry was lying there in his skivvies reading a magazine when he saw Duke out of the corner of his eye. He was snaking through the rows of parked cars, taking a diagonal route toward the stairs to the second floor balcony that the rooms gave out on. He had the easy long stride of an athlete, really a pleasure to watch. In a minute he pushed open the door to the room.
Right away, Henry could tell Duke was agitated. He walked in real quiet, took off his jacket and draped it over the desk chair. Then he turned, walked to the right side of the bed and sat on it. After loosening his tie, he shook out a cigarette from a pack on the bedside table and fired it with a kitchen match. All this without a word.
Henry figured what the hell, get it out in the open. “Hey, big fella, what’s up?”
“Can’t be nothing, Duke. You’re pissed off. Anybody can tell.”
“It’s that little bitch, Lana. She didn’t show up tonight.”
“She, uh, told you she would?”
“No, but she always does on Tuesday. She’s stepping out with that kid Randy she talks about.”
“Hell, that’s just to make you jealous is all. She’s crazy about you.”
“I don’t like anybody cutting in on me. I can’t take it and I won’t.”
He got up then, still smoking, and paced the floor. Henry watched him for a minute before saying: “Just let it go, Duke. Show her you don’t fall for that routine.”
“You know I won’t put up with it, Henry.”
“That’s right, big guy, you don’t have to. Just ignore her. She’ll come calling.”
If Duke seemed agitated before, he was at the boiling point now. His lip curved up in a sneer and his nostrils flared. He stubbed his cigarette out, stopped pacing and stripped to the waist. Then he sat on the bed, his back to Henry.
He knew he’d best shut up and wait, so he tossed the magazine to the floor and shifted down in bed, lying there with his head propped up to keep an eye on Duke. When he was sure the storm had passed, he turned to switch off the bedside lamp.
~ ~ ~
Next morning, he was in the parking lot, reading the paper and waiting for Duke to come down. He always took longer than Henry to get ready. Duke would shave and shower, same as him, but he put a lot extra into it. He was especially fussy about the way he dressed. Neither of them had a lot of clothes, but Duke sure knew how to vary his look and keep his duds looking fresh.
 Henry saw him step out to the landing from the room and look up to the clear, bright sky. He headed down the outside stairs to the parking area. That quick stride of his brought him over to the car in no time. He was dressed in a dark sport jacket, tan slacks and an open collar shirt. Henry pushed himself off the side of the car and folded his newspaper.
“I have to be at the bar by nine for my shift, Duke.”
“Okay,” he said. “Me, I’m gonna take the day off. Want to go to breakfast?”
“Yeah, well I do, but I’m nearly broke. I was figuring on maybe a coffee and donut.”
“Hell no, dude, I’m flush! Tell you what, I’ll spring for the whole megillah.”
Henry pointed to the car and smiled. “Lead the way, my man! What are you going to tell your boss?”
 “Haven’t decided. But I picked up eight hundred bucks shooting dice last night and I’m not gonna be dealing no cards for a couple of days.”
 “Say, Duke, you almost never gamble.”
 “Never for long, anyway. The percentages are lousy.”
They drove to a diner type restaurant just beyond Fremont Street and were eating breakfast in a booth by the front window when Lana Firewood walked in. She had a slim young dark-haired guy with her who was grinning from ear to ear. Henry saw her glance around and then turn to speak to Smiley. He figured she must have spotted them and he kind of held his breath for what would happen next. Duke hadn’t seen a thing yet.
Lana walked straight towards them, high heels clattering across the tiles, her boyfriend trailing behind like a happy puppy. As they came close, Henry looked up. She gave him a little wave while she still had Duke’s back to her. Finally, she made a point of stopping and turning around when she passed them by.
“Oh hi, Duke!” she said, acting all surprised. “I didn’t recognize you from behind.”
Duke looked from one to the other, still chewing on a piece of toast. He nodded real quick and grunted. This may have been rude, but Henry was glad he didn’t speak because it sure as hell would have been ruder. Lana looked annoyed, squaring her shoulders and biting her lower lip.
“Good to see you, Henry,” she said, turning and walking past with Smiley to an empty booth further down the aisle.
Duke put down his knife and fork, took the napkin out of his lap and tossed it on the table. His face was flushed.
“Come on,” said Henry, “don’t let her get to you. You know what she’s doing.”