First Chapter Only

By Michael Paulson

Deadly Age by Michael Paulson cover

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Copyright 2007 by Michael Paulson, all rights reserved.

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ISBN: 978-1-60215-048-5

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Chapter 1

Old age hits each of us in its own way. For some, it is discovering the surgeon about to perform their bypass is younger than their grandson. For others, it is realizing that beauty on the beach lies with the surf and sand, rather than sun-tanned skin. For me, it was opening my eyes in the predawn and seeing an armed man moving past my bed. At that moment I felt very old, indeed.

"Take a wrong turn, Slick?" I asked, rising upon one arm.

My intruder was a tall, slim shadow. In the darkness, I could not see his face. However, my nose quickly detected two commonalties between us: A penchant for cheap cologne. And a consuming desire for liberal quantities of alcohol. As I watched he crept toward the window.

"Stay cool, old man," he said, without so much as a glance in my direction. "Got business wit' you; understand? Stay cool and nobody gets hurt."

His voice disclosed an African heritage and that he was under thirty. I yawned loudly and eased my free arm beneath the pillow to the Mauser, secreted there.

"Who're you working for, Slick?" I persisted, slipping my hand around the gun-butt, and my forefinger through the trigger guard.


"Somebody put you onto my crib."

"Blind Ray."

"Tough racket, working for Ray."

"Ain't workin' for him," he said. "Not no more." There was a pause. Then he added, "Beats the hell out'a being a nigger for a bunch of rich white folks, like my old man!"

Blind Ray controlled the illicit drugs, gambling and prostitution for most of East Austin. However rumor had it he was backpedaling from the Russian mafia as well as from encroachments by the Portello Crime Family. Nevertheless, Ray was not the-forgive-and-forget-type when it came to his subordinates. If my shadow had pulled a fast shuffle time was on Ray's side, and vengeance was in the offing.

"If he's got your number there's no escape," I warned. "You may as well call Ray, so he can arrange your funeral. Use my phone. Then shut the door on your way to the cemetery."

He stopped and looked back at me. "Ray got no complaint, old man."

"Then why aren't you interrupting his sleep?"

"Ray can't do me no good. Not, with them spying on his ass."

He sidled over to the window and pulled the blind aside. The early morning light washed the shadows from his face. I could see he was about twenty-five years of age, and clean cut. Somewhere I had seen him, before. But, I could not tag his name. The shade fell back into place, cutting off the light. He turned toward me, staring in my direction through the darkness as if unsure as to his next move.

"Somebody's got you running," I remarked. "If not Ray, who?"

"Nothin', I can't handle, old man," he growled. "And, there ain't nobody I can't handle­including you."

"Tough talk from a guy hiding in the dark."

Overhead the Casablanca fan whirred. Outside, a small diesel rumbled past. Inside, my visitor crept over to the floor lamp by the easy chair, and flicked a switch. A blaze of light filled the room; momentarily hurting my eyes.

"Satisfied?" my visitor gritted.

He was dressed in formal evening attire. A white silk scarf hung loosely about his neck, just under a black overcoat. The pistol in his right hand was a Makarov; its hammer cocked. But, the heavy weapon hung loosely from his long thin fingers; pointing at the floor. The other hand was wrapped in a blood-soaked white rag. Through this a sticky redness seeped, glistening like ruby-dust.

"You impress me," I taunted. "Turning on that light took balls. About as much as an old lady crossing the street with a boy-scout escort. You got a name I can cling to, Slick? Or, did mommy forget to have you christened?"

He squirmed a bit. Then his jaw muscles tightened as his brown eyes gave me another scathing. Finally he muttered, "Davey Kenyan."

I remembered my visitor, then. It was after my last run-in with Blind Ray, the day I retired from Austin P-D. A hooker by the name of Margarita Ramirez had been murdered in the alley behind his nightclub; a place called, The Tearful Eye. I had spent several hours with Ray, not learning anything. On my way out of the club I had noticed Kenyan. He must have been about twenty, then. Dressed to the nines in tailored garb and arguing with a black man, about my age. The older fellow was clothed in faded coveralls, a plaid shirt and work boots. Angry words were being exchanged between them. But Kenyan had been on the retreat despite his superior physical stature. At the time, I assumed the older man was a relation: father, older brother or uncle.

"What's next, Kenyan? We play jacks?" I eased the Mauser beneath the blankets until it was pointed at him.

"Pushing all my buttons, ain't ya?" he growled.

"Nobody here but you and me, Slick."

With a dissatisfied grunt he settled himself into the easy chair and let his long legs go limp, flopping wide at the knees. "You're a big disappointment, old man."

Cocking one leg, I made a concealing tent of the blanket. Then I moved the Mauser beneath it; keeping the weapon pointed at him. He did not look like a serious threat. But, my life insurance had lapsed. And I hated the thought of departing this world. After all I had three ex-wives and a bookie to support. I eased off the safety.

"You crouch in a three-room flop that's two breaths away from being torn down," he sneered. "You sleep on a Murphy bed that's got a busted leg. And Ray figures I'm supposed to be impressed? You're nothing but empty reputation, Bishop!"

"My villa's being painted," I pinged. "Some gutless asshole sneaked in trying to find a place to hide from his mommy. That's when the place got all messy. My cleaning lady beat the shit out of him. She doesn't usually anger easy. But it was her eightieth birthday that morning. And someone'd stolen the old girl's cake."

Kenyan smirked at my feeble comeback. "Deacon Bishop's s'posed to be tough enough to consort with female alligators," he snorted. Then he gave his dark head a disappointed shake. "Gotta' tell you, old man, from where I sit a crippled kitten could kick your ass."

I sat up slowly, keeping the bedclothes across my knees and the Mauser pointed at him. Then, I eased my feet onto the cold linoleum and let out a loud shiver to conceal the sound of my thumb cocking the pistol.

"Come a little closer," I urged. "Maybe, I can improve your opinion."

He snickered, "Now, who's talking tough?"

With my right hand I pointed to the bathrobe draped across the back of his chair. "Toss me the robe, will you? I'm just getting over a cold. I'd hate to have it turn into pneumonia waiting for you to explain why you woke me up."

Kenyan' mouth chewed the air with something I could not hear. Then without turning away he reached back, grabbed the robe, and dragged it over one shoulder. After checking the pockets for anything dangerous, he tossed it to me. I caught the garment in mid air with my right hand. Then I stood up, using the robe's body to conceal the Mauser in my left.

"Who've you been playing patty-cake with, Kenyan?" I asked, shoving the Mauser part way down the robe's left sleeve.

I waited until his eyes darted toward the bandages. Then I pushed the pistol through the sleeve opening; taking dead aim at his head. "Set your weapon on the floor!" I growled. "And kick it over. Then, grab some wall. I get real ornery when I'm awakened before sunrise. And that gives me this urge to shoot people."

Kenyan glanced at the Mauser. Then he smiled as if he had expected me to turn the tables. "Maybe you got moves, after all, old man."

"Mine usually end with me squeezing this trigger­as Ray probably told you."

Kenyan leaned over and set the Makarov on the linoleum. Then he gave it a kick in my direction. The bulky pistol skidded to a stop partway across the floor. I waggled the Mauser as I moved toward him. He stood up, went beside the chair and faced the wall, laying the palms of his big hands against it while splaying his legs.

I moved behind him and jabbed the Mauser's barrel between the cheeks of his backside. "Move, Kenyan, and your balls will be kissing your asshole goodbye."

"You're calling the shots, old man."

I patted him down. Kenyan was carrying a silver cigarette case, a gold lighter and a wad of cash big enough to buy a burial plot in Manhattan. The money was carelessly bound with a wide rubber band. I backed away after returning those items to his pockets. Then I grabbed the Makarov from the floor before retreating to my bed.

"Take the chair, Slick," I said. "I prefer shooting people when they're sitting. It's the pixie in me."

Kenyan did as instructed; acting like a man much relieved.

I released the Makarov's clip, and slipped it into my robe's pocket. Then, I jerked back the slide to empty the weapon's chamber. After which, I tossed the heavy automatic onto my pillow.

"Now, let's get to what brings your light and joy to my crib." I sat on the bed.

Kenyan crossed his legs and pulled out the shiny cigarette case. "I need a job done," he replied. Gold glinted as he lit a smoke.

"Next time phone ahead. If I'm not busy we'll play hopscotch. Right now my game-card is full."

I was busy. I was doing a missing-person's pant for some rich eccentrics by the name of Verdune. The son's wife, Rose, had run off with a trumpet-player by the name of Aaron Jenkins­absconding with the family jewels. Matriarch Verdune did not care if I returned the wayward wife. But, she was eager to get her fat fingers on what Rose had taken.

He speared the air between us with the smoldering cigarette. "This'll take but one night, Bishop."

Kenyan held up the cigarette case with his bloody hand. I nodded. He tossed it to me and I helped myself. After which, I hefted its weight and turned the case over. On the back was the inscription: 'Davey, all my love, Rita'

"Expensive," I remarked.

"Keep it."

I shook my head and gave it a return throw.

Kenyan quickly stuffed the cigarette between his lips and caught the case, with his good hand. Then he dropped it back into his coat. After which he leaned toward me to say, "The job pays ten grand. That kinda' cash buys a lot of booze and broads, for an old man like you."

I took a book of matches from my robe's pocket and lit the smoke. "Ten grand buys a lot of trouble," I countered. "What've you got in mind?"

The diesel heard earlier rumbled its return. Kenyan began to fidget, his eyes darting from me to the window. Finally he asked, "Okay, if I check the alley?"

I slid his Makarov under the sheets, propped my pillow against the bed's headboard, and then slid back against it. "Carefully," I warned. "Old men like me scare easy. And when that happens I shoot anything that moves."

Kenyan stood up and crept back to the window like a nervous tenant, hoping not to see his landlord.

"If you've got friends out there I wouldn't make them welcome," I cautioned. "I get indigestion if I empty a clip before breakfast."

He pulled the blind aside and stared out for nearly a full minute. Then, he uttered a sigh of relief and returned to the chair. His face was grim as he slumped down. His bandaged hand was oozing more red.

"Who's after you?" I asked.

He took another drag on his cigarette and muttered, "The job's a simple escort service. No big deal."

"Don't shine me on." I blew smoke in his direction. "It's a depressed market for one-nighters. Armed escorts for a gig like that can be had for a few hundred."

Kenyan pulled out the wad of cash. "There's this private freak-house outside of Mission," he said. "It's a hangout for rich dopers and millionaire space-cadets. All you gotta' do is make a pickup." He tossed me the bundle. "That's the ten in advance."

I caught the ball of cash and gave it an affectionate squeeze. The money felt warm and reassuring in my hand. So much so, I almost went woozy as my fantasies began to run amuck. Blondes, brunettes, redheads

"What's the name of this place?" I asked, still admiring the bundle.

"Windston Asylum."

Bells of coincidence began a small din in my head. I did not know Dr. Windston, personally. However, by reputation he was a kindly physician-type who peddled heroin and hookers, as a sideline.

"You carry a big gun," I told him, giving the bundle a friendly squeeze. "What's stopping you from playing the part?"

He leaned back and crossed his legs. "That's what they're expectin'."

A queasy knot suddenly formed in the center of my stomach as my fantasies turned to dust. Whenever thousands are involved and pronouns are used instead of names, it usually means those names are too terrifying to utter.

"How about some details, Kenyan? For example, who are 'they'?"

He rubbed the side of his jaw with the back of the bandaged hand; leaving a wet, red smear. "The Portellos."

I swung my legs around and jumped to my feet. I had an urge to run. But if Salvator and Dominic Portello were part of Kenyan's problems, there was no place to hide.

"You look like a man just back from his proctologist," Kenyan snickered. "All wobbly-kneed and white-faced."

"Rita from the cigarette case is Rita Portello?" I choked.

He nodded. "Rita's gotta' get out of Windston's joint."

"She's the goddamn pickup?"

"How long you had that yellow streak, old man?"

"I'm not stupid enough to jerk Rita out of some goddamn nuthouse after Salvator and Dominic have dumped her there!"

Kenyan took another drag on his cigarette, and stared at me in silence; the smoke shooting from his nostrils like steam from ruptured pipes. The bundle of cash had become a cold, dead weight. I threw it back to him. He caught it and snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the table, adjacent to his chair.

"You crazy son-of-a-bitch!" I lashed out. "I pull Rita out of there and I'm history! There wouldn't even be memories of me, for Christ's sake! As it is, you're coming here has probably ruined any chance at a second cup of coffee, before some torpedo stops by to feed me a lead breakfast!"

Kenyan got up, his eyes going dead on me. I moved the Mauser inline with his chest. Men with that look do not mind dying. They do not know fear because they have nothing to lose.

"I come here doin' business, I come here askin' for help, I come here payin' up front!" he growled, shaking a threatening fist at me. "All you gotta' do is fucking drive out there!"

I jabbed a thumb toward the kitchen. "Hit the road, Slick!"

"I'm up to my goddamn ass in trouble, Bishop! I've run out of time! I got nobody else!"

"Be on your way while you can!"

Kenyan started toward me; his bandaged hand clenched. "Ain't nobody gonna' know shit about who done what, 'less you get careless!" he shouted. He held up the ball of cash, and shook it. "Where else you gonna' get this kind of money for one fuckin' night?"

I snuggled my finger around the trigger. "Keep coming and I'll drop you."

He stopped; his eyes focused on the Mauser. "Maybe, that wouldn't be so bad," he murmured. He licked his lips, considering his options. "That'd solve everything."

"For me," I said. "Not for Rita. Not for my cleaning lady. How that dear old woman hates wiping blood off my walls!"

His arms went limp, then.

"You'd have a better chance at Windston's than me," I added, in my most encouraging tone. "The Portellos and I have decades of bad history. All it'll take to finger me is a goddamn rumor. And if you were followed here that's already been handled."

Kenyan spread his arms beseechingly. "You just wait in your car outside the fence! Rita'll take care of the rest! Ten minutes, Bishop! Ten grand for ten fucking minutes!"

"And, if something goes wrong like it's prone to, Salvator will see that Dominic spends a week killing me­in ten thousand tantalizing ways!" I shivered then. "Damn! Nothing ruins a man's sweet disposition like a lit blow-torch shoved up the shit-chute!"

Kenyan's shoulders stiffened. Then he turned his head as to leave. But a moment later he caught himself and faced me. His eyes were bright. There was an odd smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. It was like he had secretly won the lottery and the IRS would never know about it because I was about to keep that secret.

"What if I sweetened the deal?" he asked, his voice lilting with anticipation.

I shook my head. "It's not the money."

His hands came at me, the fingers spreading wide. "I'm not talking money, old man! I'm talking something you been after a whole long time! Something you'd trade your left nut for!"

Despite my burning desire to see the last of him, Kenyan's insistence intrigued me. "I place a high price on that area," I warned. "The sweetener will have to be good to change my mind."

"I can help you put the Portellos outa' business; for keeps!"

"Let's not start bragging, again."

"No brag, old man! You in? Or, you just gonna' stand there pullin' my pud? I'm talking death row for those Sicilian bastards! Guaranteed!"

This concludes the opening chapter to DEADLY AGE by Michael Paulson. To buy the entire eNovel for only $3.99, click the 'Buy Now' button below (all transactions processed by PayPal for your safety.

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