An essay by Jake “The Hammer” Hurley, as provided by Michael Rettig
Art by Shannon Legler
I sat in the back of the old wooden fishing boat, gripping the outboard motor handle with white knuckles. I’m a member of the most powerful gang in the country. My grandmother calls me a thug. But a thug that tonight was rising up in the ranks of my gang. I was nervous as hell in this stupid small boat in the dark heading to a small island in the middle of Mexico nowhere. My organization rose to the top by two things. Our ability to put hits on anyone and special weapons from the evil genius of Dr. Frombeck.
Frombeck was a German professor involved in poison gas research during the Great War. He’d left Germany after the defeat and now lived alone in a big house on a small tropical island off the coast of Mexico. He charged a hefty price for his inventions, but they were worth it. His pocket brain disruptors had helped us gain control over the Tongs in San Francisco. His tasteless poisons had let us wipe out the Marcesi brothers in Cleveland.
Two weeks ago, Frombeck had sent a coded message. He had a new brilliant discovery that would gain us more advantage.
I slowed the boat and pulled it into the small wooden dock on the island. The guy who usually came to pick up new inventions had been riddled with machine gun bullets by the Capone mob last month. I tied up the boat, then with the leather bag full of cash in hand, followed the instructions to walk up a jungle trail until reaching the two-story stone house. Banging a big brass knocker in the shape of an imperial German eagle on the massive front door, I straightened my double-breasted suit and the tilt of my fedora. After a few minutes, bolts unlocked from inside.
The door swung open. Backlit was the man himself. Tall, cadaverous, wearing an immaculately starched, ankle-length white lab coat with a black leather belt and holster cinched at the waist. In one hand was an odd looking pistol, pointed at me.
“The password please.”
“Long live the Kaiser!”
“Where is the man who came before?”
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“He got killed. I’m the new guy.”
“You have the money?”
I lifted up the bag.
“I’ve got tell you, Herr Doctor, the boys back home are sure looking forward to your next invention.”
“Pshaw, those previous ones were nothing but children’s toys compared to what I have for you.”
The old German gave off the scents of tropical mold, cigars, and rancid sauerkraut. I kept looking at the odd looking pistol.
“Come, my good man, let me show you what you will have for your money.”
Leading me through dark hallways, Frombeck finally unlocked the last door with a key. He opened the door with a flourish and ushered me inside. The professor switched on the lights. It was a laboratory. A generator running was background noise while a record player played classical music. There were dozens of small cages on racks around the room. It smelled like a dirty reptile house at a zoo. I sneezed. What a stink.
“Gott Im Himmel!”
Frombeck drew his odd looking pistol and shot dead a rat the light had sent scrabbling in the corner. I stared at the pistol. It had been virtually silent. Reaching down to pick up the ejected casing, I saw it was a standard .45 caliber cartridge. I smiled at the advantage my gang would have.
“Sir, this is brilliant. Well worth the money.”
Frombeck saw me staring at the pistol.
“No, no, this is just a toy. You are not buying this, you simpleton. This is what you are buying.”
He waved at the cages. I walked closer and peered inside the cages. In each was a little box turtle with two copper wires stuck in its head. All the wires led to a large wooden box with a typewriter keyboard.
“I have discovered that the most intelligent creatures on Earth, kilo for kilo, are turtles. I talk to them. I take them for walks. I play recordings of Wagnerian operas to make them happy. I’m selling you a machine to talk with the gods.”
At that moment, I realized I was in a room with a genius who had gone completely off his rocker. Looney. Whacko. Crazy. Maybe it was from being alone too long. Maybe it was an effect from poison gas research during the Great War. But I knew I could not go back to Chicago with turtle cages.
Unfortunately, Frombeck had made an error. It was one of those life quirks that statistically is almost impossible. For you see, I am indeed a thug. I’ve murdered, extorted, etc. I’d killed my violent drunken father as a teenager. In all my life, I had only one pleasant memory that could bring a tear to my eye. My bedraggled mother came home one day with a present. She’d paid 50 cents at Woolworths and bought me a pet.
A little box turtle. It came in a small cardboard box with holes punched in the lid for air. I loved that turtle. I’d named him Binky. I’d killed my father because he’d come home drunk and threw the turtle against the wall. All those turtles with wires in their tiny heads made the tears flow down my scarred face.
I calmly pulled out my very noisy Colt .45 from the holster and shot Frombeck right between the eyes. I then spent hours gently removing the wire electrodes from each turtle, dabbing iodine on the wounds, and setting them free in the surrounding jungle. Frombeck’s body wound up at the bottom of the ocean. A snack for the sharks.
I steer the boat toward the mainland with the new silent pistol in my pocket. The gang will find the new silent gun design worthy of $50,000. The bag of money is going into my safety deposit box for a rainy day. Sitting on my lap, my hand gently rests on a small cardboard box with air holes poked in the lid.
Jake “The Hammer” Hurley is a rising member of the South Side Gang. He and his compatriots have interests in breweries, gambling, and protection services. “The Hammer” specializes in the collection of debts for his organization. Capt. Benson of the twelfth police precinct stated that “Jake is a thug’s thug. A man who you’d best not cross. Unfortunately we can’t prove a thing. Witnesses disappear.”
Jake spends evenings escorting Yolanda, an exotic dancer at the Orchid Club. He also anonymously contributes cash to building a new reptile building at the City Zoo.
Michael Rettig is a left handed, red headed only child who sees shapes in clouds no one else does. Once when fired from a job, instead of getting drunk, he went alone to a room and read Orwell’s 1984 straight through. This is Mike’s second story for Mad Scientist Journal. His first story was “Chuck the Alien.” After an insanely stressful career as a stockbroker, Mike writes short stories. He’s won a couple of short fiction contests and been a writing contest director. His writing critique group, “The Word Herd,” meets frequently at the local Barnes and Noble.
Shannon’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://shannonlegler.
“Wrong Guy” is © 2016 Michael Rettig
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Shannon Legler