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June 24, 2024

The Hit

By Lamont A. Turner

The man in the gray trench coat listened patiently while the realtor made her pitch. None of what she was blathering about mattered. The apartment had a window that overlooked 9th street, and his target would be on a float in the Christmas parade on 9th street in two weeks. He would be signing the lease, under a fictitious name, no matter how well the garbage disposal worked. He was careful not to seem too eager though. Best to let the woman give her spiel.

“So what do you think? You won’t find another fully furnished apartment in this neighborhood for this price. It’s quite a bargain.”

It was too much of a bargain. The rent was ridiculously low, yet the realtor was pushing it like a car with a blown head gasket. It didn’t smell right.

“What’s the catch?” he asked, suddenly worried there might be something about the place he needed to know before using it to commit a crime that could send him away for life.

The woman looked down at the papers on her clipboard and flicked them about for a few seconds before muttering: “It’s haunted.”

“What?”

“That’s what they say,” she said, looking up with an expression like a bride on her wedding night having to confess to her groom that she had the clap. “We’ve had three tenants abandon their leases in the past six months.”

“Because of ghosts? That’s stupid.”

“I know it sounds silly, but nobody will stay here since…”

“Since what?”

“Since that poor woman hanged herself in the bedroom closet. I shouldn’t be telling you any of this, and, contrary to what you may have heard, I don’t have to unless you ask, but after what happened with the last tenant, I feel a certain responsibility.”

“Let me guess, they saw the bed sheets stand up in the corner and say boo. They probably found some guy with a bigger apartment they could stay in rent free. There’re a lot of dumb guys out there.”

He broke it by throwing himself out of that window,” she said, glancing at the window overlooking 9th Street, only to turn away with a shudder, as though she’d caught something on the other side of the window staring back at her.

“I promise I won’t toss myself out of any windows,” the man said with a sneer, pleased to learn they obviously didn’t vet prospective tenants. “And I don’t believe in ghosts.”

The woman smiled wanly, and handed him the clip board and pen. As he signed the lease, he noticed she was chewing her lip, her attention fixed on the bedroom door behind him. The previous tenants weren’t the only crazies, he thought, handing the clipboard back to her.

* * *

The man, who had signed the lease as Peter Short, but whose real name was Frank Giocolano, had waited a week before moving into the apartment, and then, wanting to be seen by as few people as possible, never ventured back out into the hall. He’d brought as little as possible with him, mostly food and the props necessary to carry out his scheme, since he wouldn’t be able to bring much with him when he left. It was bad enough he’d have to contend with the rifle as he rushed down the fire escape outside the bedroom window after making the hit, disassembling it and scattering the parts on the way down, forcing the police to waste time gathering up the pieces of the untraceable weapon. It would take the police only a few minutes to figure out where the shot had come from, and another minute before they started clearing the block to zero in on him. The panic that was sure to ensue in the aftermath of the murder might buy him a few extra minutes, but not many. After descending the fire escape, he was to follow the alley to 8th street where he would change clothes in the back of a black sedan while being driven to another car several blocks away that would take him to the airport. There were more people involved than he was happy with, but this job was big enough to require it.

The target was a state senator named Baily who was firmly in the pocket of the competition. With a war brewing between the families, they couldn’t afford to have someone like Baily batting for the other team, and they couldn’t set him up to take a fall in the press since exposing him could lead back to the drug trade that was the point of contention between the rival factions. Fortunately, Baily had made a lot of enemies with his firebrand style of campaigning. The police would find plenty of evidence strewn around the apartment of activists opposed to Baily’s particular brand of nationalism. Nobody would suspect his organization had broken the rules and executed a public servant. Baily had to die, and it had to be a very public death. This was to be a political assassination as far as anyone knew.

Giocolano wasn’t superstitious, at least no more than most men, and he wasn’t what anyone would describe as sensitive. His surroundings carried no emotional weight for him, yet there was something about the apartment he didn’t like. He felt a sense of unease that normally only surfaced when he spotted a flaw in his plans at the last minute, or some unforeseen circumstance forced him to adopt a new course. He hated doing anything on the fly, and took great pains to map out every detail before undertaking a job. What was it that was bothering him? He spent his first three days in the apartment opening and closing the window overlooking the fire escape, checking and double checking his rifle, and studying the facades of the shops across the street from the window he would be firing from. By his fourth night in the apartment he had found nothing that should have set off any alarms other than the snow building up on the fire escape. There was no guarantee it would still be snowing the day of the Christmas parade, but the odds favored it. That worried him. What if it came down so hard the parade was canceled? A lot of money had been spent on the parade, so it would have to be a full-on blizzard before they called it off, but it wouldn’t have been the first time his schemes had been fouled by the weather. He remembered the time when, after disposing of six feet and two hundred pounds of evidence in the lake, a gale had sprung up out of nowhere, nearly sinking his skiff.

Across the street, an old man sat hugging himself on the stoop of the brownstone housing a shop that sold tiny pastries with foreign names for the price of a dozen legitimate doughnuts. He removed his ball cap, exposing his bald head to the frigid onslaught from above, and held it out to the younger man who’d come out of the shop to glare at him. His request for alms answered by a slap which deprived him of his hat, he staggered off, desperately trying to retrieve the cap from the wind that pushed it down the road ahead of him. Watching the old man’s frail frame shudder with each cough that sowed the snow at his feet with red tinged spittle, Giocolano thought of his father. He’d played it straight, following all the rules, and ended up drawing his last breath under a dim bulb in a charity ward with nothing but the sound of the grumbling of his kids’ empty stomachs to send him off. It was on that day that Frank Giocolano decided to follow his own playbook, taking what he wanted instead of waiting for the crumbs of rich men to fall into his plate. He would be a man, not a dog begging for scraps, and if that meant killing other men, so be it. By keeping a low profile, and volunteering for the jobs nobody else wanted, he’d risen quickly through the ranks, becoming a made man without ever attracting the attention of the authorities. Unlike most men in his line, he had no police record, and that made him even more valuable to the organization. Eschewing the flashy life-style that had doomed so many of his peers, he had been content to spend his days in the office of the dry cleaning business he’d bought as a front. He spent his evenings at home with his books and model ships, dreaming of the day he’d gather up his fortune and sail away from the city that had consumed his father.

Giocolano poured himself a drink from the fifth on the faux marble breakfast bar and settled onto the leather sofa in front of the television he refused to turn on. He didn’t normally drink while on a job, not even during the prep phase, but there was something about the situation eating at him. Staring at the ceiling, he noticed a crack in the plaster in the corner above the bedroom door and grunted out his irritation. Was there a crack in his plan too? What had he missed?

His unease swelled as his glance fell upon the bedroom door. Since moving in he’d spent his nights on the sofa without giving much thought as to why. Considering it, he decided he didn’t like the bedroom, especially the closet. Something about it reminded him of his father’s hospital room, or at least the way he’d felt while he was there, watching his father gasp for breath, eventually failing at that too. Without realizing why, he’d closed the closet door, tossed his clothes on the bed, and left the room, only to reenter when he needed to pass through to reach the bathroom or to check the fire escape under the room’s only window. He tried to play a game of chess against the application on his phone, found he couldn’t concentrate, and devoted the rest of the evening to the fifth, which he nearly drained before he was finally able to fall asleep.

* * *

The night before the hit, Giocolano couldn’t sleep, and having no bourbon left to alleviate his tension, he couldn’t shake the sense of alarm that had been growing since the day he’d set himself up in the apartment. His instincts were usually spot on, but he couldn’t pinpoint what was setting off the bells in his head. He checked his gun over and over. He scanned the news for reports that the parade had been canceled, or the route had changed. Everything checked out. Perhaps it was the weather that was throwing him off. Although it had been predicted the following day would be clear, the snow was still falling. The damn fire escape had to be covered in ice. He had to check.

He paused before the bedroom door. Finally forcing himself to grab the knob, his other hand instinctively reached for the gun in the holster he often wore under his arm, before remembering he’d left the gun on the end table.

“What the hell’s wrong with me?” he said, hoping the sound of his voice would snap him out of whatever had ahold of him. He had always been grounded, not allowing his nerves to get the best of him. He wasn’t about to let that change now. He turned the knob and pushed open the door.

By the dim light of the street lamp at the end of the alley outside the window, he saw the closet door was open, though the light refused to venture beyond the door frame. It was a rectangle of impenetrable darkness carved into the bone-white wall, the shadows cast by the falling snow scurrying around it like a swarm of flies. How the hell did that door get open? He was certain he’d closed it. He remembered making a point of doing it. Without switching on the light, he rushed across the room, slamming the door closed as the shadows on the wall coalesced into the shape of a man. He thought of his pistol on the end table next to the sofa in the next room. Whoever was standing on the fire escape, casting that shadow, had caught him off guard. He was a sitting duck. No, if they’d been sent to kill him he’d already be dead. Besides, nobody outside of the family knew he was there. It was probably some derelict, or at worst, a second story man hoping to make a score. In either case, they would probably run off as soon as they knew they’d been seen. He slowly turned around.

The man staring in at him did not run off. He stood there, eyes lost in shadow under a bullet perforated forehead. The white face was bisected by a line of red blood running from the hole, between eyes and down the side of the nose to the left corner of the mouth. A purple tongue slipped between the swollen lips to lick at the blood as Giocolano suddenly recognized the apparition before him.

“How?” Giocolano muttered before backing out of the room, his gaze fixed on the man outside the window. Stumbling into the light of the room beyond, he pulled the bedroom door shut and stood there with his back against it. It couldn’t have been Jimmy. It had been nearly ten years since he’d made his bones by putting a slug in Jimmy Russo’s skull. Dead people don’t come back to life, and even if they did, why wait ten years? There had to be a logical answer. He pushed himself away from the door and grabbed his gun off the end table.

“You’re playing games with the wrong guy,” he shouted as he threw open the bedroom door and made sure whoever was looking in the window would get a good view of the gun in his hand. There was nobody there. Sliding the gun under his waistband, he raised the window. A gust of wind blew in with a groan, spitting icy flakes into his eyes. He shook it off and thrust his face out. The cold hit him like a slap. He ignored it, and the wet pin pricks on his neck, as he leaned out to scan the alley below. The white blanketing the pavement was undisturbed. He turned over and looked up, seeing nothing but the snow falling from a black sky.

Being sure to latch the window, he went back out into the living room and took a pair of gloves and a large cloth sack from the open suitcase on the floor by the sofa. Ghosts or not, he still had a job to do. He put on the gloves and then pulled a plastic bag containing an ashtray full of butts from the sack. Removing the ashtray, he placed it on the breakfast bar and then went back to the sack to dig out two glasses, wrapped in newspaper. They were covered in finger prints that wouldn’t be in any database. He’d already washed the glasses covered with his own prints, and in the morning, before the parade, he’d wipe the place down. It would be impossible to eradicate every trace of his presence, but by introducing enough fake evidence to the scene, he’d hoped to minimize any damage.

The only thing left in the sack was a fifth of gin. He’d forgotten about that. Its contents were meant to be left in the glasses, hopefully adding to the illusion that there had been more than one occupant in the apartment. He read the label, glanced over his shoulder at the bedroom door, and unscrewed the cap. The gin, a cheap brand he would never have bought for his own consumption, burned a little going down, but it softened the trembling in his hands.

“What the hell is wrong with me?” he asked himself, holding up his right hand and willing it to be still. How many men had he killed since the night he’d left Jimmy Russo in a pool of blood in the gutter? He’d been instructed to make sure Jimmy was found since his death was intended as a message, but most of the men he’d taken out had gone into the lake. What if he started seeing all of them? What if they all clawed their way out of their barrels and burst up through the ice to come looking for him? What if they were all waiting for him on the fire escape after he took down Baily? He took another swig from the fifth.

Lousy time to crack up, he thought. He couldn’t back out of the hit now. What was he going to tell his boss? That he couldn’t chance having the hit spoiled by some dead guys who showed up to visit? If the guys at the top thought he’d become unreliable he’d be the one at the bottom of the lake. They couldn’t risk someone who knew as much as he did yelling out the wrong things in the psych ward while fending off invisible tigers.

Having already cleaned and checked his rifle, he sat at the breakfast bar and went to work disassembling his pistol while he analyzed his situation. He thought of himself as well grounded and methodical. He had never been prone to flights of fancy and had certainly never suffered from delusions. As far as he knew, nobody in his family had suffered from mental illness. What was different now? Why, all of the sudden, had he started seeing things? The job he was on was an important one, with a lot riding on him, but he’d never broken under stress before, not even when his life had been in danger. It had to be something about the apartment. He was aware he’d been somehow off, depressed, skittish, since he’d moved in. The only problem there was that if he accepted the fact the place was haunted, he really would have to be crazy. He had just gotten his pistol back together when something inside the bedroom tapped on the door.

In an instant he had the gun loaded and was on his feet. His first impulse was to shoot through the door, but he checked himself, remembering he couldn’t afford the attention the sound of shots would bring.

“Get out here with your hands where I can see them,” he ordered, disappointed that his voice had cracked a little, depriving his words of menace. He waited a few seconds and then repeated himself. This time it came out like a snarl, but produced no better results. The door remained shut.

There’s nobody in there, he told himself. There can’t be. This was all in his head, and being in his head he could control it. If his mind played tricks on him, he would ignore it. He opened the bedroom door, again leaving the light out so he could better see out the window. This time someone was there, glaring at him through the window with filmy yellow eyes almost swallowed by the deep sockets. Giocolano recognized the man as a two bit hood he had been ordered to dispatch three years before, but he struggled to remember the man’s name.

“Ricky West? No, it was Weston, wasn’t it? Ricky Weston. I remember you didn’t put up much of a fight. What makes you think you’re any tougher now that you’re dead?”

Weston’s lips twisted into an open-mouthed grin, drooling bloody water down his chin. He raised his arm to point at the wall behind Giocolano with a boney finger. Giocolano felt a chill run down the nape of his neck and turned to see the closet was open.

“There’s no escape Frankie,” someone whispered from the darkness. “You can’t cheat your way out of the gutter.”

“Which one are you?” Giocolano asked, unable to make himself step forward for a closer look at the figure shrouded in the shadows of the closet. “I’ve killed a lot of men. If I have to, I can kill you a second time.”

“You didn’t kill me. I killed myself. I took too many shortcuts, thought I could skip the work and get right to the rewards. It didn’t work out for me, and it didn’t work out for you.”

“I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. How do you get off comparing me to you?”

“Because you’re just a worse version of me. That’s my fault too, but now it’s time I set things straight. You cheated. You got what you have at the expense of others,” As the man in the closet spoke Giocolano grew more tense. The raspy voice was too familiar.

“Who the hell are you?”

Giocolano’s father stepped out of the closet, a look of utter despair contorting his emaciated face. Giocolano’s knees buckled. His gun went off and the lights went out.

* * *

The police detective in the rumpled suit squinted down at the man on the hospital bed under the dim bulb.

“What’re his chances?”

“Not good,” replied the doctor as he peeled back a piece of tape to examine the IV in Giocolano’s forearm. “It was smart of him to fire his gun to summon help, but we got there too late. There was too much damage.”

“Stroke huh? He seems kinda young to go that way.”

“It happens,” the doctor said, shaking his head. “Any idea who he is yet?”

“The name on the lease says Peter Short, but it’s fake. No prints on file. No one that matches his description reported missing. Apparently he’d had company before he clocked out, but we got no leads on that either. All the prints are duds.”

“Looks like the city will be burying this one,” the doctor said, feeling for a pulse that wasn’t there. “Another unmarked grave in Potter’s Field.”

Article © Lamont A. Turner. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-05-15
Image(s) are public domain.
3 Reader Comments
John
05/16/2023
01:39:41 PM
Enjoyable read.
Carl Nord
05/16/2023
01:39:41 PM
What a great story. I'm not an expert in anything, but to me, it has that gritty, noir feel to it. Well done!
Anonymous
05/18/2023
09:46:23 PM
Great read. Held my attention all through it.
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