Death Deals

An 11-Part Eerie Serial of Horror

BY JEREMY RIDDLE
About the author


EPISODE 2: CUTTING CARDS


YOU GUYS AIN'T GONNA' BELIEVE THIS.”

Braden poured into Mike’s B&G like gangbusters, 370 pounds of sweaty, wheezing meat bellied up to the bar, ordered a double shot of bourbon, and made everybody wait while he knocked it down. He got choked up because he tried to take it in too fast, but he set the glass down easy and got his breath back a little at a time.

“...ain’t gonna’ b’lieve this,” he kept mumbling, but everybody waited to hear what they weren’t going to believe just the same. Guys didn’t come any cooler than Braden. Usually, he was a stone-cold rock, but something had him stirred up, and, whatever it was, everybody wanted to know.

“Everybody”, in this case, was me—Mike Casey, owner of the aforementioned—my pal Bob Castle, Frank Thompson, a friendly old tourist who’s been “just passing through” for about three years now, and Tommy Lazare, a wise-ass street punk with 30 seconds left to live at any given moment. Even Pat, one of my resident drunks, got into the act of caring about what had ol’ Braden suddenly parting with his Be-Jesus.

“Wha’s thu story, Bray?” he yapped, but no one paid him any mind.

Braden was having a time getting himself back to an even-enough keel to tell the tale. It seemed like a miracle that anyone his size could even walk at all, and tonight it looked like he had been running. Finally, he seemed to have it down to a din, and he looked up at me and just shook his head like he couldn’t believe it himself.

One last big exhale, and he started: “I was down at Tony Zip’s tonight,” then he stopped. “Tony Zip” was what everybody called Anthony Fabrizzi, an old style, old country Mafia hood. He usually had a few boys over for poker on Friday, and Braden was usually one of them.

Braden poured himself another shot of bourbon and started over. “I was down at Tony Zip’s place, and we were playin’ stud. Me and” and then he proceeded to name several prominent mid-level gangsters-about-town, who were also regulars at Tony Zip’s game. “Tony was tellin’ us a joke about some broad he used to know or somethin’ and we was all laughin’ and cuttin’ up, and then Vinnie knocks on the door.”

Vinnie was Tony Zip’s bodyguard.

“So Tony’s like `Yeah, what is it,’ but Vinnie don’t say nothing. Then he knocks again, louder. `WHAT!’ Tony’s getting’ frosted. I mean, we were all jokin’ and in a good mood, and here’s Vinnie bangin’ on the door and not saying what he wants and not coming in either. So the third time he knocks, and he’s hammering it pretty
good this time. `Christ,’ Tony says `What’s the problem,’ and he gets up and goes to the door.”

Braden stopped to take down the last shot of bourbon he poured, and to pour himself another. He thought it over a bit, then he drank the second shot too.

Finally, he gets back to it: “Tony reaches for the doorknob, and the door explodes. I mean, it didn’t EXPLODE—y’know, blow up--but it flies out of the frame like somethin’ big just plowed into it. It hits Tony pretty hard, knocks him backwards ‘til he stumbles onto the card table.”

Braden stopped to take a breath.

“We all just sort of froze and looked where the door had been, nobody really knowin’ what’s what, y’know? Then in through the doorway waltzes this guy…” Braden was breathing really hard now. “This guy…” he said again.

“Who was it?” I asked, trying to prod him to the point.

He sat there and shook his head, took another shot. He was looking like he was near to tears now. He closed his eyes and seemed to compose himself a little.

“Big guy. A really big guy, dressed all in black. He came in, and everybody jumped. I mean, shit, the first thing you think is that it’s a rub-out. Everybody slaps leather, and Tony Zips’ yelling before he even gets his out `Kill ‘im! Kill the bastard!’” A pause. “And we mow him down.”

Then he stops, like he’s waiting for one of us to ask him something. But by this point nobody is saying anything, because we’re all starting to wonder if we really needed to hear this after all. You don’t hear guys confess to a shooting every day.

Braden is examining his glass like it’s something really interesting. “I said `we.’ I didn’t have a gun, though. All the other guys did though, and they emptied ‘em into this dude, kept shooting until they were dry and he was a pile of meat on the floor.”

Bob was starting to look really uncomfortable now. I looked around, and this seemed to be the general sentiment in the room, except for that dumb kid Tommy, who was grinning big and making like he might start laughing at any moment. Dumb kid. Braden had just confessed to witnessing a mob murder and nobody with half a mind wanted to know anything about something like that. There was a lot of uncomfortable silence.

Then Braden spoke up: “He got up again.”

Everybody looked at him, and no one said a word.

“He got up again.” This time it was barely a whisper. Then he slammed his fist down on the bar, and shook his head some more.

“Who got up?” It was Pat, the drunk.

“This guy got up after taking enough lead to kill a dinosaur.” He was talking slowly and deliberately now. “We were still all sort of shell-shocked—this is not exactly the kind of shit happens to you every day, y’know?—then `Bam!’ This guys up like he didn’t even know he was supposed to be hurt. Just jumped right back up.”

At this point, the thought occurred to me that maybe ol’ Braden had been raiding some of Tommy Zip’s Patent Illicit Pharmaceutical. But it was just a thought. Braden, for as long as I had known him, was the poster-boy for level-headed. For as long as anyone had known him. That’s why we were all so interested in what had him so agitated in the first place. He didn’t get agitated. And if he was telling a story like this, it wasn’t some bullshit he saw from the bottom of a glass. It was real, or he believed it to be real, and that alone was good enough for me. Still…

“He moved fast, like so fast you could hardly see it. He dove under his…it was a coat or a cloak or something. Whatever, he dug into it with both hands and came up with a shotgun in his right. Blew away” and he named one of the guys at the game “before he even knew what hit him. “Then” and he named another guy “went for the spare clip he kept for his .45 and before he even got it out, this dude in black comes up with a blade in his left hand.”

He stopped and stared at the bar like he was seeing the whole thing over again. “It was like a big curved blade on the end of a pole. What they call a scythe, I think.”

“A reaper?” Bob jumped in.

“Yeah, a reaper.” Then Braden stopped and looked up at me and all the color went out of his face. Apparently this was something he hadn’t considered. “Shit,” he whispered. “A reaper. He had a reaper.”

He was shaking, and goose flesh was coming out on his arms.

But he kept to the tale. “He pulls out a reaper with his left hand, and I think he drops the shotgun, because he starts swinging this thing back and forth, and you can hear it cutting and tearing through guys and they’re dropping like flies in pieces. Then they’re all gone, and there’s only him and me and Tony Zip, whose missing
a hand where he was holding his gun and doesn’t even seem to know it yet. That’s when I get a look at this guy’s face.”

Braden had lost it now. All the cool was burned out of him and he was bawling like a baby. “I saw his face!

I made like I was going to ask him the obvious, and he got even more agitated. “HE DIDN’T HAVE A FACE, MIKE! HE DIDN’T HAVE ONE! I LOOKED RIGHT AT HIM AND HE DIDN’T HAVE ONE!

He was almost hysterical, wheezing like a furnace. I’m thinking he’s about to have a heart attack if he doesn’t calm down.

Then he closed his eyes and did. It didn’t take long. He reverted back to his slow, deliberate monotone, but he didn’t open his eyes. “He was white where his face should have been, and it weren’t no mask. He had on a long-brimmed slouch hat, but his skin was white as a sheet and he didn’t have a face. There was no eyes. There was no mouth. There was no nose-holes. He had a nose and places where eyes would go, but there was no holes and no eyes.”

Takes a breath. “He moved his head like he was looking at me for a second, but I guess he saw I wasn’t packing and let me be. He turned to Tony Zip, who was starting to realize he didn’t have one of his hands any more. He pointed at him
and…spoke, I guess.”

“You guess?” I was thinking this couldn’t get much weirder.

Braden still had his eyes closed. “He didn’t have a mouth, but he said `Anthony Fabrizzi.’ That’s Tony Zip’s real name, y’know.” A deep inhale. “When he said it, it didn’t seem to come from him, it just sort of came out of the air. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once. `Anthony Fabrizzi.’ That was all. Pointed at him, then his name, then he lopped Tony’s head off, clean as a whistle.”

That was apparently all there was to say. Braden clammed up and went back to examining his glass and left the rest of us to our thoughts. I looked over at Bob and he just shrugged, didn’t know what the hell to make of it any more than I did. Frank had a smirk on his face that told me that, whatever he thought of Braden, what he had just said was bullshit. Pat hadn’t even made it to the end of the
story; he was passed out on the end of the bar. Tommy, the stupid kid, had drifted away at some point; no loss.

I guess I can die now, knowing I’ve officially “heard it all.”

Later, when everyone else had gone wherever they go, I started to close up for the night. Braden just sat there on his barstool while I cleaned up the joint. He didn’t say anything else, except once; I heard him sort of half-whisper-half-mumble.

“He had a reaper…”


Next episode...THE HAND HE'S DEALT

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Death Deals is copyright Jeremy Riddle. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)