July, 1967. Detroit, Michigan
Three musicians were standing beside the club’s back door, under a canvas awning with scalloped trim. They wore black tuxedoes, replete with cummerbunds, bow ties and shoes polished to mirror perfection. The tallest of the three, a man in his early sixties, wore a red poppy in his lapel. The others had white carnations. A few people stopped to shake their hands and offer words of praise. Someone laughed a boozy laugh. When the people had drifted away, the older musician butted his cheroot in the sand of an ashtray. He stepped off the concrete pad and walked towards his car.
The other two followed casually, about fifteen seconds apart. They got into the vehicle and quietly closed the door
Soon they were engrossed in the ritual of the pipe: lighting, inhaling, holding their breath, exhaling. It was cozy in the Continental’s plush interior. Air came through the upholstery’s leather seams, as if the vehicle sighed. The men were settling down, recharging their nerves for the next set, the last set. It was one o’clock in the morning.
BANG! A sound like a bomb shocked the trio with sudden terror. Their bodies reacted before their brains registered the sound. They ducked, and their hands flew to cover their heads.
The car lurched as a man dove across the hood, holding a pistol in his right hand. His legs swam wildly as he fought to stop his momentum. Whatever tactic he had in mind, it wasn’t working. The car’s sheen and finish turned the hood into a sliding board.
In the back seat, Aaron Kantro cursed loudly without thinking. “Jesus fucking Christ!” He had never before heard a gun shot. In spite of this fact, he recognized the sound. It was rounder, weightier, and more final than the sound of a firecracker.
The man on the car’s hood waved the pistol frantically. Slithering to get his balance, he clutched at the windshield wipers and missed. Gravity and car wax slid him across the polished metal until he landed on the ground. The pistol fired as he hit the gravel. The bullet penetrated a tire with a loud hiss.
The man sprang up and disappeared among the ordered rows of vehicles in the parking lot.
Zoot Prestige held a finger to his mouth and moved quietly to the floor of the passenger seat. The musicians were already breaking the law. Zoot didn’t want to be a witness. Zoot didn’t want questions. Zoot didn’t want any dealings with the Poe-Leece!
Aaron scrunched onto the floor of the back seat until his arm rested on the hump of the drive shaft. Tyrone, on the other side, was hoping to disappear via the flawed logic of an ostrich. He was pulling his little pork-pie hat over his eyes.
A voice shouted, “I’LL KILL YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”
Two more shots were fired from the opposite corner of the lot. Two ovoid muzzle flashes lit up the windshields of Cadillacs and Thunderbirds. A man’s face appeared, pressed to the window of Zoot’s car. His cheek was distorted against the glass, with an eye like a panicked horse. His breath steamed the window only inches from Zoot’s face. With a slight turn to the right, Zoot became a virtual nose-to-nose mirror image of the man with the gun.
The enraged shooter didn’t see the human being an inch from his face. He raised a snubby revolver over the top of the vehicle, fired twice without aiming, and ran to cover behind a black Eldorado. The wind had changed. The shots were barely audible.
“Sheee-it!” Zoot grumbled, “I hope nobody messes up my short. I paid three hundred bucks for this custom paint job.” The immaculately polished car was long and sleek as a submarine.
A voice shouted, “HEY LOOK HE’S OVER THERE!”
Bang bang bang! Flashes lit up the musician’s faces. Guns were all over the place. Aaron looked at Tyrone. The pianist had twitched and spilled a pipe full of burning marijuana into his lap. He brushed and patted frantically to prevent embers from smoldering through his pants. Thrusting his hands into his pockets he made a basket to prevent sparks from spreading onto the seat. Aaron produced a handkerchief and helped contain the disaster. Tyrone was feeling little stings of fire burning their way into his palms. He was tossing the embers back and forth as he jumped and wriggled all over the tiny space behind the driver’s seat. When the young musicians’ eyes met they realized that Tyrone had forgotten to exhale.
They began to giggle. Tyrone managed to empty his lungs without breaking into a hacking cough. The bodies of both men were convulsed with terrified hilarity.