Blue Roses.
rating: +24+x

There’s a gun in my pocket.

I arrive at the bar. It’s hot outside. I’m sweating in my blue suit. My necktie is a little too tight. My collar feels like it’s choking me. The incessant buzzing of the bright pink neon sign is driving me up the wall. The chattering of people inside collides with the buzzing. The night sky is bright purple.

We are supposed to meet at one. I am here at twelve. I want to settle in. I want to understand the stage upon which I am about to perform. I want to know where the exits are. I want to know where I am going in case I have to run.

I am meeting five other men here tonight. Jack Walker. Casey Malkovitch. Roy Jacobsen. Clyde Jackson. Jake Rose. “The Dying Roses” is an apt name for the location. I am here to serve as an executioner for its namesake. I am here to kill Jake Rose.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

I’m sitting at my desk for roll call in the morning. My legs are up on my desk while I wait for the captain. Hat over my face. Trying to get some extra sleep in. There’s usually some new big crime to investigate every other day. It’s been different recently. Quiet. The mob has calmed down since the feds got involved. My chest rises and lowers slowly. My captain enters the room. He yells at me to sit up.

He gives assignments out to my colleagues. Some of them are still out working old cases. He gives everybody something to do but me. I’m back working beat cop and desk jockey stuff. He stops me as I leave the room. Tells me to talk with him in his office. I follow him. He closes the shutters when we get there.

He tells me about a man he needs me to track down. A man named Jake Rose. He tells me he needs someone to help take care of him. He doesn’t ask me to arrest him. He asks me to take care of him. I ask him why. He says it’s an order from the chief. He says Jake buys and sells with the mob. I ask him why we can’t arrest him. He says he thinks it would be difficult to pull off. There’s a solemn somberness in his eyes. A light of truth dying out. I leave with my assignment. The only good mobster is a dead one anyhow.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

I step into the building. It’s not hot inside. I am still sweating. It is my nerves. I’m jittery. I take a deep breath. I settle down.

A waiter approaches me. He offers me a seat at the bar. I take it. I look out at the room. Twenty tables. Eighty seats. Three female performers. One stage. Emergency exit to its left side. Thirty-two patrons. Six waiters. Two bartenders. More workers in the kitchen. I recognize some of the patrons.

Another room in the back. I can’t see what’s inside. There’s a red curtain hanging over the entrance. I don’t like the look of it. An air of uncertainty and dread wafts out of its doorway. A weight hangs over my chest. I feel cold. It’s not cold inside.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

Booze is illegal. Congress rules it in 1920. Anti-Salooners and WCTU members press them on it. It turns men into drunkards. It makes them poor husbands. It makes them poor period. The ruling is formed into the 18th amendment.

This is a mistake. The streets are in the grasp of criminals. They make their money running booze. Canadian. Cuban. Bathtub. The big gangs only run the safe stuff. The safe stuff costs money. Bathtub gin is cheap. Bathtub gin is unsafe. Bathtub gin is effectively poison. People buy the safe stuff if they have the money. People rarely have the money.

Cocaine is also illegal. Cocaine is the hard stuff. The big gangs hate the hard stuff. The big gangs like to deal with people that peddle the hard stuff. The Dying Roses peddles the safe stuff. The Dying Roses also peddles the hard stuff.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

A bartender offers me Canadian whiskey. This place is mob-backed. They sell it in broad moonlight. I don’t drink. I take it anyway. It will be a long night.

The men enter one by one. They wander about the room for a while. Roy tries to get drunk. Jake and Clyde try to relax. Casey tries to swoon a dame on the stage.

Jack arrives last. He gives me a brief nod when he walks in. He’s one of us. They don’t know it yet. He’s been undercover for a few months now. He will help me when things go right. He won’t help me when things go wrong. He can’t blow his cover. Sometimes you must leave a man behind.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

Alphonse Capone is in prison. He is arrested by Federal agents for Federal tax evasion and sent to a Federal prison. Frank Nitti becomes king of Chicago. Crime goes quiet. Crime doesn’t stop. It’s just quiet. Deals under the table. Hits without fanfare. Nitti still hates the hard stuff.

Jimmy Michaels is from a gang in St. Louis. He visits Chicago. He meets a young man who just came off the trenches a few years before. He gives Clyde Jackson a loan. Clyde uses the money to open a bar named “The Dying Roses.” He names it after his war buddy who almost died. Clyde doesn’t deal the hard stuff under Capone. He thinks Nitti is different. He deals the hard stuff under Nitti. Jimmy visits again. Jimmy sees the hard stuff.

Jimmy goes back to St. Louis and meets with his boss, Vincenzo Caruso, in a small Italian restaurant. Caruso has an impromptu meeting with the boss of St. Louis, Frank Agrusa. Agrusa sends a telegram out to Frank Nitti, acting boss of Chicago. Nitti has a meeting with the higher-ups of the Chicago mob. Paul Ricca, the guy who's been telling Nitti what to do, tells Nitti they need to send a message to Clyde Jackson. Nitti tells Agrusa tells Caruso tells Michaels that the problem is being handled. Nitti tells the commissioner tells my captain tells me to handle the problem. I tell myself I’m not working for the mob. I tell myself it’s still the hard stuff. I tell myself it still deserves punishment. The mob just tells my boss what to make me do.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

It is one o’clock. The five men gather together and shuffle into the back room. They push the red curtain aside and become hidden. A waiter comes to me and asks me to come with him. I stand up. I follow him into the back room. The room is small. The room is filled with cigarette smoke. The men are sitting around a poker table. A vase of red roses sits atop it. They stare at me as I walk in. I choke on my words. They don't come out. Silence. Tension. Cold sweat.

The waiter comes in behind me and introduces me. He gives them my name. He tells them I'm from the Chicago Police Department. Fear. Apprehension. Cold sweat. They keep staring. The waiter says I'm here on behalf of Nitti. They keep staring. Then they laugh. I feel my heart collapse. I tell Clyde that I'm just here to check in for Nitti. Make sure sales are good. Things are in order. Play a few rounds of cards. Leave. I lie.

I drop into an open seat. I take the money from my pocket. Station funds. Everyone sets a dollar in the middle of the table. The waiter asks if I want another drink. I nod. Rose offers me a cigarette. I look at him on the other side of the table. He's smiling. He's happy. I tell myself cocaine is evil. I shake my head. He puts the cigarette back. I think about how it would feel to kill a man who has been nothing but friendly to me. Brains splattered on the mahogany walls. Nothing but a mob lackey. Anxiety. Nausea. Cold sweat. I am dealt my cards. 7-2 unsuited.

There's a gun in my pocket.

Germany sinks U.S. merchant ships. It’s a gamble. It’s an attempt to isolate Britain from much-needed resources. This threatens the United States which creates a problem for Germany. Germany decides that the U.S. entering the war would mean their loss. They invent a distraction. They will ask Mexico to attack the U.S. This will distract the U.S. from the war overseas and from their growing civilian casualties. Germany sends the telegram to Mexico. The U.S. intercepts the telegram. The U.S. decides to enter the war.

Bomb shells fly over the trenches of France. Gunfire rings out across the obliterated countryside. There are few quiet moments during the day. There are small moments of free time at night. Men huddle around a metal grate with blocks of wood on top. They deal cards. One of them makes off with all of the money that night. Every day they come back. They get to know each other. Jake Rose is the best of the bunch. Clyde Jackson is not far behind. Then one day the other men don’t come back. Jake and Clyde are the only survivors. Jake has a bullet hole in his helmet. They decide to stick together.

The two come home and decide to open a business together. They name it after the bullet in Jake’s helmet. They get a loan from the mob. Some small cash and then they won’t touch the criminal world again. Clyde knows how to run a business. Jake knows how to sell a business. They sell food and booze. Clyde keeps things operating. Jake brings in new customers and entertainment. Then booze is outlawed. They face bankruptcy. Clyde sees an opportunity in the mob again. Jake talks the mob into backing them. Then Capone goes to prison. Jake sees a new opportunity. They sell coke.

Nitti knows Jake’s death would send a greater message to Clyde than the death of Clyde’s own wife.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

6-8 unsuited. Fold. 3-9 unsuited. Fold. Pocket 6s unsuited. Nothing on the flop. Fold on the turn. 4-J suited. Pair of jacks on the flop. Three of a kind on the river. Take the pot. 2-4 unsuited. Fold. Q-A unsuited. Nothing on the flop. Nothing on the turn. Fold on the river. 7-8 suited. Nothing on the flop. Straight on the turn. Take the pot. Q-2 unsuited. Fold. 10-7 suited. Pair of 7s on the flop. Flush on the river. Take the pot. Get the nuts. Three of a kind on the flop. Lose to Jake’s flush.

Clyde starts bragging about the time he spent Up On That Hill. Knife in his teeth. Gun at the ready. Forty Krauts at his feet. Roy calls bullshit. Jake reminds Clyde that he broke his big toe and checked himself into medical that day. Everyone laughs. I laugh. I’m laughing with them. Why am I doing that. Casey laughs so hard he knocks a glass of brown liquid onto the felt table. Jack laughs awkwardly. I marvel at how long he’s managed to stay hidden. He doesn’t even blend in at the station. Roy calls Casey a fuckhead for knocking the glass over. We laugh again.

6-A suited. Nothing on the flop. Pair of 6s on the turn. Fold on the river. Pocket 2s. Fold. 4-J unsuited. Pair of 4s on the flop. Flush on the turn. Beat Roy’s flush with a Jack kicker. 8-4 suited. Fold. 4-Q unsuited. Nothing on the flop. Nothing on the turn. Pair of Queens on the river. Take the pot. 5-3 unsuited. Fold. 4-9 unsuited. Fold. 10-8 unsuited. Fold. Q-K unsuited. Nothing on the flop. Royal straight on the turn. Showdown with Casey. Knock him out of the game. Casey leaves the room. There are faint tears in his eyes.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

It’s not my service weapon. My service weapon is at home. My captain tells me he thinks I’ll need more fire power. I agree. The station armorer disagrees. He says they have nothing I could safely conceal. There’s a very good chance I will not come back from this alive without a better weapon. I want something that will guarantee success. I go from gun shop to gun shop but nothing grabs me. Then I find a shop I’d never seen before.

I ask the guy behind the counter to show me what kind of handguns they have. It’s all the same stuff as the rest. I look up at him and tell him I need something special. He squints at me. He tells me to follow him. We go into a back room and down a flight of stairs. We enter the basement. The room is lined with shelves of strange objects. The man pulls a handgun off of one of the shelves. He sets it down on a table in front of me.

It’s a model I don’t recognize. “Smith and Wesson Model EO-11 C.S.” It looks like my .38 special. It’s distinctly different somehow. He tells me that this will guarantee that the job gets done. I ask him how. He doesn’t tell me. He sets down a contract in front of me. I try to read the fine print. I can’t read it. I can’t focus on it. The words are in English and perfectly legible but I can’t read it. I ask him to read it to me. He refuses. I’m too desperate for help to care. I sign the contract. In the background I hear a group of men talking. One of them puts something in his hat and it disappears. Another opens his mouth and breathes a small flickering flame. Another has a void as black as the night for a face. They’re all spirits.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

It’s almost five o’clock. They all leave at six. I am running out of time. I don’t even notice it. They deal me another hand of cards. I’ve doubled my money but Jake is on a winning streak. I can’t figure him out. No tell. Perfect poker face. Betting pattern just irregular enough to throw me off. I haven’t even found a time to kill him. I still haven’t killed him. I’m running out of time and I haven’t killed him. I go to the bathroom.

I look at myself in the mirror. My eyes are racing. My heart beats faster and faster. My hands tremble. I wash my face with cold water. It doesn’t help. My stomach churns. I consider vomiting. I swallow it. I take deep breaths. They don’t help. This is all so wrong. This is so unlike me. What am I doing here.

I joined the force to try to help clean the streets. Clean up the neighborhoods. Let people walk into a bank without worrying about being robbed. How’d that turn out. How did that turn out you dumb fucking asshole. Look at yourself. You look like shit. You basically work for the mafia now. You do work for the mafia now. Stop pretending that’s not what this is. It’s a mob hit. Doesn’t matter if there’s cocaine or not. You still think there’s chivalry to be had. There isn’t. No. Maybe there is. Shoot him in the leg or the gut. Arrest him afterwards. Fuck. God. Do your job. I’ll just do my job. That’s all this is. All it ever was. Just following orders. I walk back to the table. I put my hand in my pocket.

There’s a gun in my pocket.

Frank Nitti kills himself in 1943 with a bullet to the head in order to avoid prison time for extortion. Frank Agrusa is murdered in 1944 by Chicago mob hitman Frank Fratto. Alphonse Capone dies of cardiac arrest in 1947 after suffering from syphilis and a deteriorating mental state. Vincenzo Caruso dies in 1954 after falling into the Mississippi river with a blood alcohol content of 0.17. Paul Ricca unceremoniously dies of a heart attack in 1972. Jimmy Michaels dies in 1980 from a car bombing while getting lunch off the I-55.

Casey Malkovitch dies in 1938 in an underground boxing ring due to severe brain hemorrhaging after multiple blows to the head. Roy Jacobsen dies in 1955 by throwing himself out of the window of his office after the stocks he's invested in plummet. My commissioner dies in 1956 of a heart failure at his home. My captain dies in 1962 after pulling someone over for speeding and getting shot in the face. Jack Walker dies in 1974 of terminal lung cancer at a Florida rest resort. Clyde Jackson dies in 1988 of old age surrounded by his great grandchildren.

The Dying Roses stops turning a profit in 1955 and Clyde sells it off in 1956 just before it goes bankrupt. The gun shop closes its doors and sells off the rest of its stock to a company named Marshall, Carter, and Dark in 1938. The Great War ends in 1918 after Germany finally surrenders to advancing Allied troops. Prohibition ends in 1933 after the 21st amendment repeals the 18th amendment and legalizes alcoholic beverages once again. The waiter dies in a car crash in 1968. The bartender dies of pneumonia in 1946. Everyone dies. None of this ever really meant anything. It's all over.

There's a gun in my pocket.

I step back through the red curtain. I stand in the open doorframe for a moment or two. I just stare down at Jake Rose. The room looks up at me for a brief moment before looking back at their cards. Jake looks back up at me. He gives me an odd look. Why are you staring at me. I don't know. I think for a very brief moment about all the different ways tonight could've gone down. We could've been friends. If only this were a different world. It isn't. The stars aligned such that my bullet must reach his head. There's no morality to this. There's no morality to anything. I grab the gun in my pocket. I start to pull it out.

Then I notice something. A brief flash of red and white in Jake Rose's sleeve. Tucked away just where no one can see it. My eye twitches the slightest bit. I grip his arm and rip the card from his sleeve. Ace of hearts. I throw it onto the table. Got any more cards in that fucking coat of yours. Everyone stares at him in awe. That's his whole winning streak. I punch him. I grab his other arm and reach into the sleeve. King of clubs. I reach into his coat pocket. Jack of diamonds. I reach into his other coat pocket. Ace of diamonds. I move to rip the gun from my pocket.

Time slows. I catch a glimpse of light reflecting off of steel as my hand wraps around the gun. It's Clyde. It's Clyde's gun. Colt M1917. Chambered in .45 ACP. Brought home from the front lines. Polished and cleaned regularly. My gun is still trying to clear my pocket by the time his is raised. He's had more combat training than I have. He's had more combat experience than I have. His reflexes are far quicker than mine. I should've just opened with the gun. I shouldn't have wasted my time. I should've just shot him. Didn't see it coming. Of course he'd stick up for Jake. What a dumb mistake to make. Jack looks frozen. Scared. My gun continues to rise. I try to dive to the side. Clyde pulls back the trigger.

White light.

I feel a sting.

There's a gun in my hand.

It is 1922. I deal blackjack at a casino downtown. Wages are okay. It’s enough to get by. A guy in a white suit sits down with his wife. I deal him a couple of cards. He’s drunk. Bathtub gin on his breath. Hers too. We don’t tell anyone. He looks at his cards and says to hit him. I deal him another. He turns over 10-2-J. Bust. He loses a buck fifty.

I’m twenty-one. I’m a directionless kid. Can’t afford to go to college. Don’t know any trades. I can flip cards. That’s about it. The night is quiet. The air is peaceful. There’s soft piano coming from the band in the back of the club. I deal him another hand. I hit him once. 8-4-6. Stands on 18. I reveal 19. He loses a buck fifty. He looks disgruntled. He ups his bet. A-8. He stands on 19. I reveal 20. He loses two bucks. He looks upset. He ups his bet. A-10. Blackjack. He wins four bucks fifty cents. He puts it all back up. His wife puts her hand on his shoulder now. It’s enough to buy their groceries for a month and then some. He’s lost a total of fifty cents. I deal him his cards. 8-2-4-Q. He looks angry. All the money he brought blown in a few hands.

He pulls a gun. No idea how he got it past the bouncer. His girl screams. Everyone turns to look at us. More people scream. He says I stacked the cards against him. He says I’m a cheat and a coward. I break into a cold sweat. My heart falls out of my chest. Then someone at the far end of the room stands. He runs at the man. The gunman turns just in time to see someone running at him before he’s tackled to the ground. My savior holds the man to the ground and flips him onto his stomach. He produces a pair of handcuffs. He looks at me and smiles as the cuffs click in place. He asks if I’m okay. There’s a sparkle in my childish eyes.

There’s a gun on the floor.

The colors begin to blend. Everything is a fading mix. Something red pours out of my chest. Then it turns black. Then yellow. Then gray. The world shimmers and melts. My suit turns orange. The floor turns purple. My gun turns green. My vision gets narrower and narrower. I catch something on my gun. Written on the barrel. The last thing I process before it all goes dark. “It’s not over, kid. One last ace.” The cards turn brown. The table turns white. The roses turn blue. My hand touches the grip of my gun. One last ace. I take it.

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