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Bareknuckles Pulp No. 30: Fucking Amateur Night in the Philly Mob Talent Show

The Bareknuckles Pulp Dept. comes roaring back with exactly what the title says.

Featuring Vincent & Louie from Mr. Dunham's novel THE STREET MARTYR, coming soon from our full-length wing, Gutter Books.


Fucking Amateur Night in the Philly Mob Talent Show by T. Fox Dunham



“You’re so full of shit, Louie,” I said. “You’re psychic now?”

Louie rolled the ball bearings in his pocket, flexing a fist over the metal, ready to break a jaw. “He don’t sit right, dude,” Louie said.

“Squid’s not some dumb fucking kid who doesn’t know how things work in South Philly. He knows this is all Dominic’s territory. The Lord gives out land and titles from his high seat at Kingdom Come Pizza. The greaseball just wants to sit down and talk. Civilized.”

Louie rolled the balls in the pocket of his Eagles hoodie. “I swear your mother dropped you on your head when you were a baby,” he said. “How can you be so fucking stupid?”

“There are other ways of doing business, not just beating the shit out of a guy.”

“Natural law,” Louie said. “Why ask when he can take? It’s a fucking talent show. Winner takes all.”

Louie paused at the metal detector at the pharmacy door and studied the parking lot, checking out the parked cars. “Shit. That van don’t sit right with me.”

He motioned to a filthy Econoline parked sideways on two handicapped spots. A shadowy figure flicked red coals out the passenger side window from a cigarette. A sheer winter wind whipped the stores and blacktop, birthed of the river Delaware and raw with her winter blood, but the fucker had all his windows rolled down even in this cold.

“Be ready,” Louie said.

I trusted Louie’s instinct and readied my grandfather’s Luger—snug inside my jeans and resting on my stomach.

We stepped out of the Rite Aid pharmacy, and I gripped the inconspicuous white bag, holding it tight. Inside rattled our livelihood: percs, a count of one hundred each, filling four orange bottles. We sold pills to the rich kids at Penn in University City for four dollars a perc. After kicking up to Dominic, we’d net one large.

We took guarded steps, watching the van. It could have just been some junkie shooting up. Louie yanked out the cord lashed to his belt and readied his keys. He paused at the door of his vintage ’78 Camaro parked in the fire lane in front of the store. His forehead furrowed and rippled wrinkles back along his bald head. He scanned the parking lot again.

“Fucking natural law!” Louie yelled and dove his ass onto the pavement. The passenger side window shattered, spraying crystal shards over the pavement. Three lights pulsed from the van, and the lead sawed into the Camaro, sidewalk and storefront.

“Fucking Squid!” I said, throwing myself down and sucking gravel with Louie.

I yanked out my piece and saved my ammo for clear shots. We’d have a window soon when they had to reload. Amateur assholes. First rule in a street war: get them with the first salvo. If you need to reload, you’ve fucked it up.

Bullets pierced the Camaro’s frame, ringing the metal like a broken bell. Louie gritted his teeth, and swore so hard the profanity melded together in one chain of rough vowels.

“Get Little Suzy!” I yelled. I tasted blood and traced a red stream down my cheek where a bullet had grazed my forehead.

“Naw,” he said. “I was just going to sit here all calm-like and shit and let them shoot my ass up. Fucktard.”

Squid’s crew fired three guns, nothing automatic. I doubt he could afford anything of higher quality or had the connections to get it. They’d have to reload soon, at least one or two of them. I waited, and the stream of fire slowed.

“Fuck ’em up!” I yelled.

Louie threw open the door, popped open the false plate under the glove compartment and yanked out Little Suzy. He cocked the Uzi—a gift from Ahuv, an Israeli coke dealer we did a favor for—then lunged over the bucket seat and fired bullets through the shattered driver side window, drilling a chain of holes along the van’s broadside. The Uzi’s stream sawed the van doors, and the chainsaw of bullets sliced off one of the guy’s ears, nose, finally nailing him in the jaw. I joined in with my piece. The guy hunched over; the gunfire stopped; and the van’s engine started, the high beams igniting the parking lot. Nothing scares the shit out of a guy like an Uzi, especially a bunch of gangster wannabes; and the van tore out, limping on a flat tire.

“Did we get Squid?” I asked.

“Not a fucking chance,” Louie said, feeding a new clip into the Uzi, ready for more trouble, but they wouldn’t be back tonight. Fucking Amateur Night in the Philly Mob Talent Show. “No way we hit him. This isn’t going to end so easily. We clipped one of his Puerto Ricans.”

He tossed me the keys then took the passenger seat and cradled Little Suzy in his crotch. I smelled the hot metal burning his jeans, but he didn’t bother moving it. Louie didn’t feel shit.

“When they come back, they’re coming back hard,” he said.

Red and blue lights flashed down New Ferry Rd, and I turned off the headlights then pulled around the back of the shopping center and followed a service road that let out behind a tract of row homes. I flipped on the lights just in time to avoid an old junkie walking the middle of the battered road. He carried a ratty plush elephant under his left shoulder, and I swerved to the side and passed him.

“You should have just fucking killed him,” Louie said. “He would have thanked you for it.”

“Would you thank me if I did?”

“Maybe,” he said. “Asshole.”

We couldn’t go home. They could be waiting for us. I didn’t think they had the guile, but paranoia kept you breathing. I turned up 11th street. We’d park near the 10th Precinct Station—safest place we could be—and figure this shit out. Louie stayed quiet and picked at a swollen zit on his chin, thinking. I turned into a parking lot behind an abandoned store and adjacent to the police station then shut off the car, parking in the shadows far enough so the cops wouldn’t notice the fresh bullet holes. A PPD cruiser pulled up to the brick civic building and yanked in some stoner they’d pulled off the streets.

“What the fuck do you do with a squid?” I asked.

“When I was a kid with my Nana, I used to watch 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea every day,” Louie said. “We harpoon his ass.”

I shook my head. My ear piercing tangled over my lobe, and I freed it. “What’s that shit you’re always feeding me? In this business, the craziest homicidal fucker wins in a fight? Shit Louie. I’m a lamb.”

“You’re a pussy.”

“Go fuck yourself,” I said.

“Yes. More of that shit. You still want to negotiate with that fucker?”

“We could talk to Dominic again, have him lay down the law. We have a deal, and it’s our territory.”

“This isn’t the fucking Harvard School of Business. Dominic’s going to fuck us in the ass and tell us we’re his only love, and really he’s going to wait it out and see who wins. Dominic wants a strong hand on the streets. Natural law.”

A cruiser raced out of the garage, flashed his lights and turned onto Ferry Street. They kept up the pretense, but the city slipped deeper into chaos, sliding into the pit. You could feel Philly ticking down, recycling, the foundations coming apart. The streets cracked. The skyscrapers groaned. And as the end of days approached, the avenues erupted in war.

“Dude,” I said, “when you talked me into this shit, you said it would be easy. We’d pass a few pills and keep our heads down. You promised we wouldn’t be doing this mob shit. I’m not made for it.”

“We just have to show our dominance,” Louie said. “We hit Squid hard enough, blow his goddamn head off. We don’t need to worry about his crew. They’re soldiers. Just growl loud enough, and they’ll fall in line. We’ll win this talent show. This is how legends are made.”

“Fuck. I don’t want make a legend. I just need some cash.”

“Fucking pussy.”

We spent the next hour discussing our plans, but most of our ideas came up short. We didn’t have the weapons or position to waste them fast. It would have to be close, face-to-face. Finally, after I kept shooting down his plots, Louie punched my jaw.

“You’re fucking crazy,” I said, rubbing my jaw. He didn’t mean nothing by it, just a love tap. I’d kick his ass when all this was over.

“Get the fuck out of my car,” he said.

I got out, and he jumped into the driver’s seat and sped off. I watched his headlights fade into the labyrinth of row homes and shops, then I sat on the pavement and dialed my phone. I called around asking for Squid’s number and finally got it from a dealer on South Street we both knew. The wind off the Delaware froze my facial chains, and the metal burned my cheek.

“Yo. Vinnie. It’s Vincent. The guy you tried to kill tonight.”

He chuckled. “You ladies got lucky. Thank you for killing Tito. A lot less dumb in my crew now. Those fucking idiots wouldn’t know what do without me.”

“Are you feeling magnanimous?” I asked. “I’m fucking feeling generous tonight.”

“Let it not be said that Vinnie isn’t merciful,” the fuck said, voice oozing through the phone like the grease dripping down his neck. “You want to deal?”

“I want out of this shit,” I said. “Dying is bad for my health.”

“Why do I need to deal? I’ll just kill you both.”

I paused and breathed in. I had to sell this just right if I wanted to survive. “I’ll put my source on the table. He’s a pharmacist at the Rite Aid. Louie won his note in a card game, and he can’t pay. So he supplies us with percs. I’ll give him to you, plus the names of our customers.”

He covered the phone, and I heard him chatting with someone in the background. “Not too fucking shabby,” he said. “What are your terms?”

“Ten percent with a sweetener of three thousand.”

He chatted again. “You’re not as stupid as your partner,” he said. “He’s a fucking loon. You really think that psycho is going to agree? He’ll rape your ass then come gunning after us, and that kind of trouble is bad for business, brings down heat on my operations.”

“Operations.” I shook my head. Fucking liar. This guy didn’t have shit, just will and great plans like all the other posing-gangsters watching fucking Sopranos reruns on HBO. I sensed his weakness, his vanity. He’d fuck himself if his cock wasn’t too short to reach around.

“Then kill him,” I said. “What the fuck do I care.”

“Bring him to me. Make him feel safe.”

Louie had already built a reputation as a wild animal. Dominic had him doing some collections before we got into dealing, but the local boss had to pull him off: too many of the debtors ended up disabled for life and couldn’t work and couldn’t pay. Anyone who tried to clip Louie would have to bring an army.

I paused, deliberating, obviously distraught and struggling. “He’s my partner. I’ve known him since school. You want him dead, you do it yourself.”

“These are my terms. And really, it’s your only chance to stay breathing. I’m going to keep coming back. It’s inevitable. It’s a fait accompli. Just accept it, and we can do business. Then you can get out. Go back to school. Knock up your girlfriend. Whatever the fuck losers do.”

I sighed over the phone. “Where do we do this?”

“My place,” he said. “South Street.”

“Fuck your girlfriend. Penn’s Landing. In the open. Captain Spizzie’s Seafood and Shoeshine Shack. Nine tomorrow.”

I hung up then left Louie a message. He’d let his cell power down or he’d already found some junkie piece of trash to trade him a blowjob for a hit. I walked home to my mom’s apartment and tried to sleep. I would have counted my thirty pieces of silver to pass the waking night, but I hadn’t been paid yet.

* * *

I didn’t sleep that night, lying in bed in my jeans and leather jacket. I didn’t think they’d try anything, not when I was delivering Louie tomorrow, but I couldn’t take chances; so I kept the Luger in hand and reviewed the details again and again, checking for anything I might have missed. The timing had to be perfect. Louie churned acid in my gut: hard to control. I had to keep him calm until the moment.

I put on my boots and took the bus down to South Street. I walked the rest of the way along the river to Penn’s Landing—the park on the river where they city held fairs and jazz festivals. Shops and restaurants lined the piers along the Delaware—Philly’s heart—and I arrived at the seafood shack, Captain Spizzie’s Seafood and Shoeshines, an hour early. The place wouldn’t open until spring, and I hung out on the side of the boarded up blue hut, leaning on the moldings decorating the wall: ship masts, nets, torn sails and harpoons, attached the flat boards to give the shack a crowded ambience—
several galleons crashed on shoals and their limbs mixed and mangled into a clump. I fidgeted with some of the shit, and it nearly yanked off in my light grip.

“What the fuck? Vincent?” Louie said. He’d pulled up out front and walked around the side, rolling bearings in his fist.

“This shit nearly came off in my hand.”

He nodded. “The city should tear this place down.”

The white Econoline van sped into the parking lot, turned sideways, parked, and Squid plus two guys jumped out, carrying 9 Mils. Vinnie didn’t carry; he projected an image of power and control by coming light and letting his guys take care of it. Water glistened in Vinnie’s dark curls, dripping down the viscous layer of gel suffusing his hair. It stained the collar of his button-down shirt and discolored the top of his leather coat.

“Good morning, ladies,” Squid said, curling his lip. His crew grabbed us at gunpoint, searched us, and took my Luger.

“You’re dead if you fucking scratch it,” I said to the guy.

Louie struggled, but he wasn’t stupid enough to defy a pistol shoved up his ass. He growled and clawed.

“You fucking sold us out,” Louie yelled. He dove and knocked me into the shack. One of Squid’s guys aimed at him, and Louie calmed. He spit on the pavement.

“Never calms the fuck down, does he?” Squid asked.

“Been like that since school.”

Louie snarled, showing his broken teeth. Cornering him made him more dangerous than ever. This wouldn’t be easy. Squid would have to put him down like a rabid dog.

“Won’t take long,” Squid said. “You got the shit for me?” I handed him a list of customers and contacts on an index card.

“I talked to the pharmacist last night,” I said. “He’s yours.”

“Fucking beautiful.”

“You got my money?” I asked. I nearly laughed my ass off and had to keep a straight face. Squid curled his lip then ran his hands through his hair, greasing his fingers.

“I’m changing the terms,” he said. “You don’t get any street cred if you negotiate. Right? That’s what you two lightweights don’t understand. And you picked a great spot too. We’ll toss your sorry asses right in the river.”

“So fucking stupid,” Louie said. He meant it too. If he hadn’t convinced me, I might have tried this for real.

I didn’t need to nod or wink at Louie. He felt the timing and grabbed the harpoon off the wall, yanked it from its crews, aimed and lobbed it hard like a Roman warrior. It closed the distance to Squid and pierced his ribs, just above his sternum. The rusty dull tip broke through out his back. It went off just like we’d planned.

Squid wavered, his eyes wide in surprise then tumbled down on his side. His boys looked at each other, waiting for some kind of instruction, utterly demoralized without their leader. Their eyes looked back and forth, considering their situation, probably feeling the fight-or-flight instinct.

I extended my hand. “My gun.” They hesitated. “Fucking now, asswipes,” I yelled. They fell into line and handed me the Luger. “Now toss his sorry ass into the river, then you can go.”

They grabbed the chains meant for us out of the van, wrapped up Squid’s chubby greasy body, then chucked him into the Delaware. I swear to God, a grease spot glistened on the water.

“I love that Captain Nemo shit,” Louie said.




T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in nearly 200 international journals and anthologies. His first novel, THE STREET MARTYR, will be published by Gutter Books, followed up by SEARCHING FOR ANDY KAUFMAN from PMMP in 2014. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. Blog: http://tfoxdunham.blogspot.com/. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham