Bang. Scream. Bang. Scream. Bang. Scream. It sounds like the sick harmony of some jazz piece. I stand by the door waiting for the guns to shush and for the screaming to be over. My fingers tremble as I hold the machine gun in between them. Just one shot. That is all I take. Just one shot per person. To kill the ones already dead and rob the life of those that aren’t. I wait for just a moment longer. Every second feels like an eternity. I can hear my heartbeat in my own ears as if something from the inside was desperately trying to break out. The door begins to shake. I hold my machine gun up and point at it. But it is just Bettino that stands on the other side of the door. “Your turn.” He says. I enter the speakeasy without hesitation.
The name used to be Forbidden Island. I would never name a speakeasy like that, it just sounds cheesy. The hallway is also lined with red velvet. Framed pictures of artists and politicians hang from side to side. Through a black curtain lies the speakeasy. I imagine it used to be a beautiful lit up place, with dancers on the left, singers on the right, mix of cocktails that I have never tried and I don’t think I ever will be able to try. But now, the floor is lined with red. Every single dancer is dead on the floor. The musicians are lying on the stage as if they were sleeping. But they aren’t. Their eyes will never open again. One shot. Clean the place. One shot per person. I have five minutes or so before the police gets here and starts to ask questions. Yet no one will ever know about this. No one ever knows about the true toll of the wars of the night.
The gun trembles on my fingers as I fire one shot into the first corpse’s head. He was dead long before I arrived. The next is a young woman reaching out for the door. Another shot, making the dead stay dead. One shot, then another, and another. Not one moves. Not one fights. Every single body I see remains dead.
Bettino and the rest of my dad’s workers force open the door to the storage facility, closing it behind them. I watch them as I shoot at another corpse. I can’t help but press my ear against the door. The screeching of metal, the loud gasps of the effort of moving a heavy door, shots fired. Many shots fired. Too many to just kill one person. No, they want to mangle him. They want to make him unrecognizable so no one dares play with us again. They want to make a statement.
I shoot the corpse of a girl, maybe my age, maybe a bit younger. She chose the wrong side of the dispute and now she’s dead. I should keep myself reminded of that. Stay on the right side. Stay on this side. I open the door. The metal stairs creak in tempo with the sound of my heels. The bullets stop. Now, there is just a lingering silence. Not even a bullet breaks it. I grasp my gun tight against my body just in case the wrong side won. Just in case this might be my last breath.
But the moment I see my boys kneeling next to the safe, I lower the gun. They run their fingers through the secure metal, running combination after combination after combination. One of them lifts their gun and attempts to shoot the door open, but the bullets just compress and fall onto its side as if they were confetti. They continue to try different combinations. Alonso presses his ear against the metal, waiting for the soft cling, the bells of victory. I would consider this a victory enough without the money, but every single bit counts. Except that the money doesn’t always go into the safe. It was empty.
I put up my gun and aim at the brick wall. “Wait.” I mutter. I press the trigger. Bullet after bullet flies out of the mouth of the gun and drive itself into the wall. I don’t stop until I see the bricks fall into the wall. Bettino stares into the inside of the hole and then shoots a smile at me.
“Nice thinking, kid.” He reaches into the wall and pulls out stacks of green papers, “You can leave the safe. There’s nothing of value in there.” I smile. It’s the same system we use at Midnight. A single brick is pushed back and the money is dumped into the hollow wall for it to be retrieved later on. Sometimes I was told to do it. A man with a large machine gun would follow me, protecting me every step of the way. I never managed to shake away the fear whenever I did it.
I climb back up into the salon. Everything is red. Even the lights are stained with the splatter of the blood that came from the massacre. Every single person is dead. I lean down and stare into the dead girl’s pale face. Her brains were blown out and now her black bob is covered in a splatter of her own thoughts, forever frozen in those specks of red. I undo the golden necklace around her neck and snap it around my own. She won’t need it anymore, and gold suits me just fine.
The rest of the boys come up one by one. The gun is still hot in between my fingers as I scan the pool of guts and intestines for any sort of sign of survival. And then I see it. It is faint. A single movement in the middle of a pile of shards of glass and discarded bodies. It doesn’t even stand out. It is just the slightest rising of his chest, just enough to breath. I could have easily looked over it. I wish that I did look over it. The boys exit the speakeasy, money in hand. “Coming, kid?” Bettino asks.
“In a minute.” I mutter, “I just have to check something.” He lets the curtain fall over the doorway and conceal me. I walk over to the moving pile and run my fingers through the top coat. The coat falls onto the floor. A Negro man hides underneath the pile. He has cuts running all over his face, painting his skin a dark, tar black. His eyes are closed but the way he is shivering reveals how alive he is, so alive he’s afraid of death.
He opens his eyes. I have never seen eyes as light as his. They look almost like faded white gold. He stares at me for a moment. I hold the gun to his head, but when I try to pull the trigger, my finger jams.
Why can’t I?
I’ve done it a hundred times before. I’ve put a bullet through the head of every corpse in this salon. But this one is alive. And this one is fighting as well as he can for his life. The scream in my head blinds me for a moment. I kick the man on his head. A stream of blood flows out of his mouth and nose. His eyes shut close. I don’t understand myself anymore. I don’t understand what is going on with me. I pull on the bloodied necklace as I bring down the machine gun.
There’s something wrong with me. I don’t know what’s going on. This shouldn’t be happening, yet I can’t stop myself from doing it, letting them live. I walk out of the salon and into the long hallway. The blood in the bottom of my soles blends into the red carpet. But I look down and it is not a carpet. It is the same fluid, scattered all through the floor as if it were wine. If it were wine, it would be a waste. But it isn’t, so I’m not sure.