It was a blustery day. Gusts of wind and sheets of freezing rain took turns making everyone feel miserable. Light-Fingered Louie and Tiny Morrison bent forward against the storm. Both men’s eyes were watering, but not so much that they didn’t notice, across the street from them, that six-foot tall, willowy brunette wearing stiletto heels. She stumbled along on the sidewalk, fighting to keep her balance and to keep her giant shopping bags from blowing out of her hands. At the same time, she seemed to be trying to force her skirt down with her elbow and to keep her diminutive, stylish hat from flying away.
“Now, there’s a broad that’s drop-dead gorgeous,” remarked Light-Fingered Louie. He pointed his crooked index finger across the street at her. His companion, Tiny Morrison, gave no indication that he’d heard.
The woman, despite those impractical shoes, was clicking along faster than the men. Her shapely rear end twitched like a happy metronome.
Louie dug his elbow into his partner’s giant toadlike belly and said, “Check her out.”
Tiny grunted and slapped Louie’s fedora to the trash-strewn sidewalk. Louie spun and dove to snatch his hat before it blew away. You wouldn’t think a twisted dwarf like him could move so fast. He sprinted five crooked steps before catching up with it. He grabbed it, slapped it twice against his right thigh, and pushed the crease back into the center of it. He smoothed the brim, pulled it up in the back, pressed it down in the front, and jammed it tight onto his head. With his back to his partner, he wiped the rain off his face and tried to hide the scowl and to calm his angry eyes. It wouldn’t due to have Tiny Morrison see that he was angry. It wouldn’t do at all.
He trotted up to walk in stride with Tiny Morrison.
“Watch your mouth,” said Tiny, “Just keep moving.”
The two men shuffled along, leaning into the wind. The woman, now twenty steps ahead of the men, stopped in front of the decrepit warehouse she was standing in front of and struggled to organize the load she was carrying. She transferred one large bag from her left hand to her right and she juggled a small box that had been balanced on her purse to an empty space between her left elbow and her waist. Before moving out again, she shook herself to check her stability. Satisfied, she took a deep breath and prepared to continue her journey. Two steel doors on the tenth floor of that same building rolled open and a black grand piano spilled out of them. The woman took just two halting steps before being smashed to the gutter.
The sound of the crash caused Tiny to lose his hearing for a few seconds. Louie, already half deaf, felt the concussion as much as he heard it. It made a horrendous racket in the deserted street, almost like an explosion.
Across the street, blood began pooling, then pouring down the street. The giant instrument’s steel wire strings were still ringing in a cacophonous, mindless melody. The woman didn’t make a sound.
Tiny Morrison rubbed his hands together, then dug into his deep coat pockets and grabbed a pair of soft leather dress gloves. He pulled them on. Then, he asked Louie,
“Did you see that?”
“No, boss, I sure didn’t,” said Louie. “Not one thing. Hey. How ‘bout lunch?”
Tiny looked down at his partner and shook his head. The two men rounded a corner. They were out of the wind, now, and Tiny pulled his coat collar down. Louie copied his boss. Tiny threw his Styrofoam coffee cup past an overflowing trashcan. The pair scuttled down the black, wet steps to the subway and caught a train.
Twenty minutes later, they were eating at a fast-food dump on the other side of town.
“This ain’t bad, is it, boss?” asked Louie.
“It sucks,” said Tiny Morrison, daintily wiping some sauce off his lips. He swished the bitter, black coffee from one side of his mouth to the other, relishing the flavor, and he watched people come and go. He always sat in a booth and slid sideways into the corner of it so that he could view the whole room and so that no one could get behind him.
On the other side of the table, Louie did the same. Tiny gave him a cold look and Louie scooted farther away from the big man.
“You wanna make me look like a fag?” asked Tiny.
“Sorry, Tiny. I just…” Louie stared down at his own coffee cup.
The two rumpled men, each in their early forties, didn’t fit in. They looked like gangsters from the early fifties.
It was 2010 and the recession was at its worst. The two men were in the seediest side of the dying city. They were the only white men in the café.
“So, you want something to eat?” asked the waitress.
“Gimme a minute,” said Tiny Morrison.
Tiny and Louie had first met in prison, five years earlier. Tiny was in for an extortion rap; Louie for assault. They were let out on the same day. Tiny weighed about three hundred pounds back then and Louie had all his fingers. Those were the days.
Tiny Morrison stared dreamily up at the ceiling. It appeared to be made of metal tiles. Of course, it wasn’t, not really. It was made of some kind of vinyl rolled material.
“This dump reminds me of the Steel Bar Hotel,” he said.
That’s what they always called the Wayne County jail. With a prisoner population of 2,600 men, it was lucky for both of them that they met. They protected each other. They didn’t join any gang.
Tiny Morrison seemed lost in his thoughts for a few seconds. Louie knew better than to interrupt him.
Then, coming out of his reverie, Tiny hissed, “Louie!”
Louie sat up straight and leaned across the table so he could hear. “Whatcha want?” he asked.
Tiny Morrison, who was born Milton Van Moore in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on February 13, 1967, set his plastic coffee cup down on the Formica tabletop and took his turn at leaning across the table. “Louie,” he said, “the way I got it figured, there’s a curse on me.”
“What ya talkin’ about?” asked his partner-in-crime.
“I said, there’s a curse on me.”
Louie snorted. Tiny’s eyes turned hard. “I’m sorry,” said Louie. “I thought you was joking. I dint expect you to say that. Why would you say that?”
“I’ve never been more serious,” said Tiny, rolling back into his seat. “Things have been happening. Nutty things. Like that dame this morning.”
“What dame?” asked Louie.
“What dame? What dame?” said Tiny. He looked around the room before continuing. “The dame what got a piano on her head. Did you forget?”
“No, no, of course not,” said Louie, leaning towards his old pal. “I just figured you was the cause of it.”
“You thought I had that woman killed?” asked Tiny. “Why would you think that?”
“Hey, don’t get psycho on me, Tiny. I mean, I seen worse things. It’s not like we’re a couple Boy Scouts.”
“I don’t have any idea who that woman was,” said Milton Van Moore. “But, when you said she was ‘drop dead gorgeous’, I knew she’d had it.”
“Oh, C’mon,” said Louie. “You’re telling me that because I said she was ‘drop dead gorgeous’ you knew she was going to drop dead?”
Tiny wiped a dirty handkerchief over his shaved skull. “That’s about it,” he said.
“We gotta go to a place that sells booze,” said Louie.
Tiny Morrison ignored the small man’s suggestion. It was always the small man’s suggestion.
He looked at his watch. A prim smile tightened his lips. His telephone rang. He pulled it out of his coat pocket and answered it.
“Yes. Good,” he said.
He put the phone back in his pocket.
Louie knew better than to ask what the call was about.
“Let’s get some burgers,” said Louie. “But we gotta go to a place that sells booze. I’m gettin’ bored, here.”
“You’re right,” said Tiny Morrison. He reached back inside his coat pocket and pulled out a wadded up five-dollar bill. He slapped it down on the table and slid out of the booth. “Let’s get drunk.”