L last night, and I mean the real


ouie and Gonzo got the axe

8,7,6 of the Strychnine 10

Words and Design by Leah Thompson

honest-to-God, Marie-Antoinette kinda axe. It was bloody. Phil tossed hamburgers, it was so bloody. Not our usual modus operandi. But it had to be bloody, Boss said, because those guys cheated us out of a heckuva lotta dough. And I mean the real, honest-to-God, BenjaminFranklin kinda dough. So Boss was pretty pissed. I was pissed, too, because of the cheating. But not because of the dough. You can always get more dough. Anyway, that means there’s only eight of us now, sitting like ducks in a row at the counter of Benny’s Diner on Fleet Street, ordering fried eggs and bacon. Ducks in a row remembering their bread and two fish in a barrel. Two or five thousand, it wouldn’t matter, except maybe Johnny would have let his dinner out the “in” door, too. Me, I would have been satisfied with one. “So, Sluggo,” says Verna the waitress, filing her nails while she waits for “order up!” “Where’s the Gonz? Said he was gonna meet me last night.” Sluggo picks his teeth with his fork. “Got in a little trouble,” was all he said. Verna shrugs, her blouse creeping further down her chest. Verna is skinny as a crack addict and never wears a bra. If she doesn’t keep tugging up the neck of her polyester waitress suit, you can see from here to kingdom come when she leans over to take your order. It’s an awful nice kingdom. A lot of folks come. “Little trouble?” Verna

repeats, and she puts her nail file in her pocket. She tries to play it cool, but Verna doesn’t like to hear about that kind of stuff. She doesn’t like it when she loses regulars. It takes time to build up a good reliable tipper, she says. “A little bit of big trouble,” clarifies Achmed. I dunno where Achmed got his name, but his hair is orange as a traffic cone and he has freckles like would make a Victorian lady slit her wrists. “He ain’t comin’ back, then,” Verna says. It’s not a question. “No, ma’am,” says Sluggo. The cook yells “ORDER UP” and Verna grabs a plate of scrambled eggs and toast, slides it down the counter to some bum who’s got his money all counted out in nickels. The boys watch it hungrily as it slides past. Phil grabs his stomach and hustles toward the bathroom. “He got a problem?” Verna asks. “Morning sickness,” says Johnny. “You the father?” asks Verna. Johnny’s a flamer. He smirks at her and slicks back his hair. She slams a plate of hash browns in front of him. “Eat up, daddy.” One by one, the cook gets all our orders right, or at least close enough—it’s hard to be picky with breakfast food, although one time last year Valentine tried to send his eggs back cause he wanted more salt. They came back snow-white as the Alps. Now the only thing Valentine orders is coffee. Ten-speed is the first guy done with his breakfast—excluding Valentine, who is on his fifth cup of coffee, but who technically didn’t eat breakfast—and he excuses himself to go to the john. He has to kick Phil out. Phil comes back and sits next to Johnny, who tries to hold his hand, but Phil can be touchy when he feels like shit, so Phil winds up and punches Johnny right in the face, right in the middle of Benny’s Diner. “Fuck, man!” says Johnny. “What was that?” “Shut up,” says Phil, and takes a bite of toast. Nothing like a good right hook to settle your stomach. “We got a job tonight,” Boss says. “Ain’t going,” Phil says. We all kinda crane our necks to look at him. “You some kind of crazy, boy,” Verna says. She gives him a fried egg, gratis. Boss thinks for a minute. “You double-crossing me, Phil?” Phil stabs his fried egg. “I ain’t double-crossing no one.” “Let him go,” Achmed says. Boss drops it. Phil finishes his egg, slaps some money on the table. Before he leaves, Verna slips a piece of paper in his hand. She smiles sideways at him, so tiny you can barely see, and Phil nods almost imperceptibly. Just like that. Kingdom comes. Phil leaves Marty’s Diner, and the seven left of us finish our breakfast. Johnny holds a wad of napkins to his nose until Verna brings him a rag from the kitchen, and then he uses that. There’s not a whole lot of blood— not compared to last night—but the white rag slowly turns crimson, like a mercury thermometer when you put it under your tongue. He’ll for sure have a black eye by lunchtime, but

at least he still has all his appendages. Verna is down the counter flirting with a guy in a shoddy suit. Her dress is pulling low. One nipple, raised against the fabric of her uniform, is dangerously close to popping out. The guy sitting beside the man in the suit can’t stop staring. “Hey, Saint Paul,” Valentine says. “You coming tonight?” I don’t answer. Johnny’s thermometer-rag is all scarlet now, and it’s making me think of my shirt, wadded up and thrown in a dumpster last night. Wonder if some street kids found it and tossed a dime for it. Hey, it’ll wash—out, damn spot, pound it on the river rocks. “Hey, Saint Paul,” Achmed repeats. “You coming tonight?” I look up. “Nah,” I say. “Rats.” “So?” “Layin’ down poison.” “So are we,” says Ten-speed, with a smoker’s “heh-heh” laugh. “What, is it a family affair?” Boss asks me. I think of Emily, asleep upstairs at home. I think of Louie, who got what he deserved, that bastard. “You could say that.” Verna walks back in the kitchen, and when she goes through the door I can see the rose tattoo on the back of her knee. Red like blood. Or like some flowers She got, but not from me. Achmed watches me. He’s sharp. “So, Saint Paul,” he drawls quietly, just so I can hear. “You sleepin on the couch now? Emily don’t like it when you’re gone, does she?” I don’t answer for a minute. “Take her some nice roses, how bout,” he says, watching my face. “She likes them, don’t she?” “Nah,” I said. “She don’t mind when I’m gone.” Achmed watches me. “You don’t mind when she’s gone, either, do you?” I think. “Nope.” I pick up a toothpick, twirl it in my fingers. “Reckon I won’t.” I stick the toothpick in my mouth. “You got what Boss needs tonight?” “Yeah.” Achmed pulls a cig out of his pocket, chews on the end. “You have fun with those rats.” I think, I already had fun with a rat. “There’s just the one left,” I say. I put some cash on the counter and leave. d

Graphics composed by Leah Thompson. Images: “Elixir Sulfanimide” (author: unknown) and “Christmas card 03 circa 1900” (author: Chordboard). IImage source: Wikimedia Commons Title font: “Noveau Medium” by Alan Cairns, fontspace

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