Gangsters Gruff: A Short Story
0 comment Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |

Once upon a time there was a terrible, scum-infested place called New Jersey. It was not the type of place you would find princesses or charming knights. Nah way. The ladies who walked the streets at night were anything but royalty and the men were no better. They even had bad pizza.
But probably one of the worst of the bunch was a guy who went by the name of Ace Mahoney. Ace was what your grandmother would call a no-good hood, but really he wasn�t all that bad. Except when you got him angry. Ace was just like any other gangster; he liked gambling, and stealing, and skirt chasing, and even a beating or two tickled his fancy. But it was Ace�s temper that earned him a reputation in all the dives and bars in town.
Ace kept a deck of cards with him, always. He called them his lucky cards and he would always shuffle through them when he was thinking real hard. Usually when you saw Ace take out his deck of cards it meant something bad was gonna happen real soon. If he turned up a jack of spades, then that meant that he was gonna knife some poor sap right in the back. If it was a queen of hearts that came up in his palm, then he would have his way with whichever flea-bitten floozy he happened to eye first. But if he turned up the ace (oh, if he turned up the ace!) then there was no telling what Mahoney would do at that point. Ace�s two buddies, Lou Stevens and Stretch Collins, had even heaved up their lunches during the job Mahoney had them do the last he time he flashed the ace.
Ace was actually with Lou and Stretch that afternoon, the day they robbed Campbell�s diamond store. It had been a clean operation for the most part, but at the very last minute old man Campbell had pulled the police arm, and then Ace was forced to blow Campbell�s head off right then and there. Lou and Stretch hadn�t liked that (there were little bits of brain that splattered on their new coats) but they agreed that it had to be done considering the circumstances. They sped through the streets in their rickety old car, and soon the coppers were onto their scent, their sirens hollering through the morning fog.
There was some shooting, a lot of hollering from Ace out the driver�s window, and a ton of crying from Lou when a bullet caught him in his right arm. Stretch started shouting at Lou to quit his whining, and then Ace was screaming at the both of them to shut their traps as he was shooting at the cops that roared behind them like angry bloodhounds. Ace was able to swing right pass the boobs in blue and they were scot free, just like that.
"Where are we goin�, Ace?" Lou whimpered.
"Quit ya blubbering, ya baby!" Ace snarled.
"Where are ya headed, Ace?" Stretch asked from the back seat.
"You two girls don�t worry your pretty little heads over it. I know a place. Out on an island. It�s a fort. Nobody goes there, place is a dump. We can lie low there for awhile, wait for the cops to lose our trace. Then it�s smooth sailing from there."
" Smooth sailing?" cried Lou. "I just got slugged, the cops are on to us for carrying a trunk full of hot diamonds and blowing some old man to Kingdom Come, and we�re headed to some God forsaken fort in the middle of the Atlantic� you�re telling me that�s smooth sailing?!"
Ace gripped Lou by his sweaty, fat cheeks. "You were just shot in the arm, ya bum! It�s nuthin� a little love and care won�t fix. Now you�re gonna shut your ugly little lips or I�ll find a way to shut them for you!" Ace patted the pocket in his vest where he kept his deck of cards to get his point across. Lou swallowed the rock in his throat and even Stretch shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"That�s what I thought, boys," Ace breathed. "That�s what I thought."
"I can�t see a damn thing in this fog!" Ace hit the steering wheel in disgust.
"Turn the headlights on, Ace," Lou suggested weakly from the corner of the passenger seat.
"They are on, ya nitwit!" Stretch said. "Doesn�t do us any good, it�s thick as clam chowder out there!"
The fog had gotten bad. It was just a white wall of smoke and you couldn�t see your own hand in front of your face even if it had a traffic light strapped to it. "We�re close to the fort now," Ace said. "We just made it onto the bridge."
Stretch pushed his bony face forward on his veiny neck. "I hope this place is as safe as you say it is, Ace. Otherwise we are going to be royally f--- JESUS, LOOK OUT!"
The car swerved madly across the planks of the bridge as the headlights picked up the form of a hulking shadow standing in the thick mist. The tires rolled and slipped as they veered out of the way. They missed the figure by mere feet, but the car ended up smacking the bridge�s iron supports with a healthy crash. Lou started screaming about his arm and Stretch began cursing at the tear in his new vest while the temperature under Ace�s collar reached a cool 250 degrees.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up, the both of yous!" Ace roared. Lou and Stretch were still grumbling but their volume was considerably lower when Ace snatched the revolver from his pants and slammed the car door on his way out. His two buddies quickly followed suit, readying their weapons with less skill.
The dark figure that the gangsters had gone out of their way to miss was still standing in the exact spot it had been before, as if the entire ordeal had unshaken it. Ace had thought it was a trick of the fog before, but as he got closer he could see the man was a good seven feet tall, a great colossal thing that had a chest the size of a locomotive and fists that looked like the hams that hung in Marty�s butcher shop. The brute wore a sheepskin vest over his ripped, worn shirt and a cabbie�s hat rested on top of his square head, covering the eyes completely and only letting his hooked nose show like the beak of some eagle. The fog seemed to pour outta the guy�s huge nostrils and over his crossed, steely arms, curling around his face as if he was some kinda dragon sitting ever so smugly in its smoggy cave.
"Hey pal!" Ace called, his voice cracking just a little bit around the edges. "Ya mind telling me what business you have standin� in the middle of the God damn bridge like some statue?" He pulled the safety back on his gun for added effect.
"You nearly killed us back there, ya loony!" Stretch shrieked. He stood a good eight feet away from the brute as he waved his revolver in the air.
Lou didn�t say anything, his knees shaking like jello in an earthquake as his face grew yellow with fear and sickness. "Jesus�" he squeaked.
The brute stood completely still before his head moved about on that granite neck of his, his unseen eyes taking in the three sharply dressed men that stood in front of him.
"They call me The Troll." The voice was thunder, sending small vibrations through the wooden planks. "I watch over the bridge. I hold down the fort."
Ace�s white teeth flashed as his lips curled up in a sneer. "The Troll, huh? That�s cute, that�s really cute. Hey, ya hear that, boys? We gotta bridge troll on our hands! Ain�t dat sumthin!"
Weak laughter came from Ace�s two cohorts but was carried away by the mist and lost forever. Ace�s chuckles were loud and sharp though as he tucked the gun back into his pants pocket.
"Okay, wise guy, okay. Whaddaya want, huh? You want some money? We got money, plenty of money, ain�t dat right, boys? We�ll just give ya a little toll fare and then you can be off on your away to steal as many children and eat as many villagers as you want."
The Troll didn�t laugh. "No money," he growled.
Ace shifted his weight, his fingers tapping impatiently. "Okay, no money, no problem. Well then what exactly do ya want? Huh, big guy? Because I�m kind of in the middle of something and you just so happen to be in the middle of that something!"
"What?" asked Stretch.
"Shut up!" hollered Ace.
The Troll spoke. "Sorry, can�t let you cross the bridge."
"And why exactly is that?" Ace asked, boiling point just about reached.
"I protect it from hoodlums." The Troll pointed a sausage finger. "Like yous."
The tea kettle underneath Ace�s hat was singing like a banshee and his fingers itched to hold that cool deck of cards in his vest pocket. But then the Troll leaned forward, the voice like cannon fire in Ace�s ear. "Are ya gonna do sumthin about it, tough guy?"
Ace licked the sweat on his lips at this remark and, craning his head around, muttered "Hey Lou. Please convince the nice man that our business is of a rather urgent nature." Ace strolled back across the bridge and gripped Lou by the sleeve before giving him a good kick in the pants. Lou�s chubby face stared at Ace in pure terror, his little bug eyes bulging out of their sockets.
"Ace! I can�t--"
"You will and you�ll stop your complaining!" Ace roared.
Lou shuffled over as he slowly as he could to the Troll, his heart tap dancing against his ribcage as he stood looking up at the bridge guardian.
"Hey there listen, buddy. We don�t want any kinda trouble. I gots a bad arm, ya see. We just need to get over this bridge so I can get some medical attention. That�s not much to ask for, is it? Just one small favor for one honest man."
A little smile was seen on the Troll�s thick, purple lips. "Nah, I spose it ain�t." He placed one of those baseball mitts he had for hands on the shoulder of Lou�s left arm, the one without the bullet. "Trouble is, though, I know you�re not a honest man. But I think I can help ease that pain in your right arm there."
A sound not unlike the ripping of wet rags then met Ace and Stretch�s ears, and before they could even blink they saw that the Troll had Lou�s left arm gripped in his fist, cept that the arm was free of its former attachment to Lou�s body. It took a few seconds for it to dawn on Lou, but in the next instant he was screaming as the blood bubbled in his throat and spurted from the torn meat that had previously been his left shoulder. He stumbled around, looking like a clownish puppet as his wounded right arm waved crazily in the air.
"Oh here, lemme get dat for you," the Troll boomed. Another rip and Lou was just some armless stump of a man doing a jig of insane agony on the bridge planks. Ace and Stretch�s legs had become cemented to the ground, their hands lying limp at their sides and their mouths as wide as the Jersey Turnpike as they stood there in dumb terror at the scene unfolding all gory like in front of them.
Lou was on his knees now, crying and wailing all at once. "Let�s give da boy a hand for tryin!" the Troll laughed. Taking Lou�s bloodied arms by the ends of the shoulder bones, the Troll swept his own massive arms back and brought them forward, Lou�s own dismembered hands colliding against his weeping face and causing his head to explode in a mass of sticky blood and slimy brain juice. A scene for discussion at your mother�s dinner table it was not.
The mutilated hunk of torso collapsed onto the bridge and the Troll tossed Lou�s arms up and over into the water, chuckling darkly as he brushed the squashed eyeball hanging by his upper lip into his mouth with his fire hose tongue. "So," the Troll asked through clenched teeth "which one-a yous bums is next?"
Now we all know Ace had some brass balls on him; he never ran away from a fight at the first sign of trouble. Stretch, on the other hand, was raised no fool. That�s why Ace felt a sudden tug that relieved him of his coat. Still partly stunned by the flesh and blood show that had played before him, Ace whirled around and saw Stretch hightailing it back to the car, keys dangling from his hand. The realization had only smacked Ace upside the head when he saw the headlights flash on and heard the engine cough to life.
"Stretch! You no-good, dirty, sunnuvabitch!" Ace began running madly towards the car, his speed based partly in fear of the Troll and partly in the desire to ring the skinny bastard�s neck. But just as Ace was gaining on the car as it pulled out in reverse, a gigantic rumbling in the bridge planks caused him to lose his footing and he was knocked to the ground altogether as the Troll�s titanic form brushed past him. The titan strolled over to the car completely casual, never breaking a sweat as he finally reached it with each continent-sized stride he made.
Swinging behind the automobile, the Troll wrapped his iron arms around the backside in a tremendous bear hug, slowly but surely crunching the car�s frame upon itself. Stretch was still trying with every ounce of desperation to back the car up, but it was right when he caught sight of the roof caving in the rearview mirror that he realized his goose was cooked and ready for dinner. Stretch tried busting through the front doors to escape his Model-T coffin but the Troll smashed them in with a swing of both of his fists, pinning Stretch in a space the size of a cupboard.
Ace watched as his partner, the guy he wanted to strangle seconds earlier, was compacted like a sardine into the car. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The Troll worked, and bent, and crushed, and smushed the thing until it was difficult to tell that it had once been a car. The last thing Ace saw of Stretch was his screaming, sweating face as it pressed madly against the windshield glass, but then that too was lost in a mess of twisted metal and warped flesh. A few streaks of blood slithered along a headlight before the bulb was finally extinguished and lost in the mist.
The Troll walked back over to Ace, his shadow covering the gangster like a blanket. Ace�s lips might as well have been sewn together with thread; for the first time in his entire life he was completely silent.
"What are you?" The dry, little sound that finally came out of Ace�s throat was a bug of a voice.
The Troll stood there, his invisible eyes shooting hot beams from under his hat�s brim and his hands dripping wet with blood and oil. "I told you. I�m the Troll. I guard the bridge. I hold down the fort."
A few seconds passed before Ace�s swift hand snatched the gun from his back pocket. He pressed the muzzle against the brute�s mountain-chest and gave the trigger a good squeeze. The gun gave a kick and a faint whiff of burnt powder wafted up from the bullet hole.
The Troll paid no mind to it. There was a small hole in his shirt and Ace saw the empty circle the bullet had bore into the Troll�s chest, saw the black blood leak out of the wound and patter onto the guy�s boots.
"Tsk tsk," grunted the Troll. He pinched the gun out of Ace�s hand with two fingers and tossed the thing aside. "I thought you knew better than ta try sumthin like dat, Ace." Using the same two fingers, the Troll plucked the deck of cards out of the gangster�s pocket and began sifting through them.
"Let�s play a little game of luck, huh, Ace? You like cards don�t ya? Let�s see�" He held the deck out to Ace. "Pick one won�t ya?"
Ace could barely lift up his arm and draw a card from the deck, but he slowly eased one out facedown anyway.
"My turn." The Troll plucked one out and held it against his chest. "Let�s see which one you have foist."
Wearily, Ace turned his card up. It was the king of hearts. "Not bad, Ace. Not bad. Now it�s my turn. Well, whaddaya know! I got an ace. That�s your lucky card right, Mahoney? The ace? Heh, that�s pretty funny you getting� the king of hearts. You know why that�s funny, Ace? Do ya?"
If Ace weren�t so sick with grief, he probably would�ve been more responsive when he felt the cement fist of the Troll tear through his chest and grip his still beating heart between his fingers. The Troll drew Ace�s shaking head close, his whisper like a raging storm wind.
"It�s because you ain�t got no heart, pal!"
The crushing fingers pressed on the heart and in a matter of seconds it was nothing but a shriveled, juiceless husk. Ace coughed up blood then, the red staining his clenched teeth as he growled and yelled as death finally came over him. His body finally stopped kicking and the Troll slid his hand out, the corpse crumpling beneath him like a used glove. His other hand still held the ace and, giving it one last look, flicked it from his fingers and let it drift down onto the dead gangster. Soon the mist came in and everything was quiet again.
And that�s the story, so they tell me. What do ya think? What�s that? You callin� me a liar? I tell ya it really happened! Fine, fine, say whatever ya like. Just finish up your damn drink and get the hell out of here. What�s that? A moral? You want a moral for your story? Okay, I got ya moral right here, buddy: stay the fuck away from bridge trolls.

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