I ask, "Where's the Don's $250,000 poke?"
Wheels should have worn sunglasses. His eyes go involuntarily towards a closet door on the far wall. "I don't keep it here."
I go to the closet, where the stench is overpowering, and I open it. A huge dog, its jaws opened wide, leaps for my throat.
In Dante's Inferno, Cerberus, the savage, flesheating dog that guards the Gates of Hell, is described as "a hideous monster fierce and strange." The Rottweiler that has gone for my throat is Cerberus' ugly cousin.
Crash! A tray of drinks is dropped. While everyone (except me) looks away, Wheels trades cards with The Dealer.
"All-in," says Wheels.I move to go all-in, pushing my blue stacks forward before saying, "Wait, I've got one more chip!"
I lift up my plaster cast, revealing the $25 'Limp Inn' chip and splash it into the pot.
Wheels does not turn up his cards. Instead he nods to a passing waitress who screams, Ow! Who grabbed my ass!
While everyone (including me) looks away, a trapdoor opens under my chair. The Dealer calls to the Brush, "Open seat!"
I scream hysterically, "Don't shoot! . . . Don't! . . ."
"Don't shoot," says Don Paulo quietly. No one shoots.
"I believe you, Mr. Thayer. Keep searching for this 'Small Man.'"
"I will, but I want something in return."
"The girl, Jenny. Give her back."
The Don says, "My father once told me never mix women and poker."
When I don't reply he says, "Your funeral." And walks away.
My funeral will have to wait. I take Don Giuseppe's $25 poker chip out of the cast on my left arm and tell Jake, "We're going to The Limp Inn."
I come to in the back of an ambulance, tied down to a stretcher. A paramedic, his back turned, is filling a hypodermic needle. I ask, "Am I going to live?"
The Ugly Man, holding the needle, turns around and says, "No. You're going to die!" I struggle with my restraints. The Ugly Man, holding the needle, says, "You have to the count of three to give me your invitation to the House of Cards. One." He raises the needle.
"I can't give you. . . ." "Two." up over his head ". . . . what I don't have." "Three." and plunges it downwards.
Donna Francesca says, "Gyp asked me to look through his nonno's things for something about a Card House. This was all I could find."
It's a $25 poker chip from a notorious bust-out joint called THE LIMP INN.
"I must get back home," say Donna Francesca, "Ever since his father and nephew were killed by this double-barreled shotgun-wielding maniac, my son Paulo worries I will die in the same manner." I walk her out to the street where Vittorio and Jake stand by her town car. I open her car door. She stops, asks, "What is a bust-out joint?"
Detective Sweeny has told the newspapers: "The people of this city can rest easy. A 'Mad Dog Killer' has been put down."
I, "The Mad Dog Killer," put down the paper and quote Mark Twain, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Reading the story of my own exaggerated death leaves me uneasy. Again I get the feeling Something's wrong. Something's. . . ."
"Something's wrong," I say to Jake, "Listen!"
"I don't hear anything." "That's what's wrong! No cards being shuffled. No chips being riffled. No. . . ."
Jake grabs for his shotgun as the door is kicked in.
What," I ask, "does Vendetta! mean?"
"Revenge!" says Jake angrily.
"We must revenge Gyp's death. You and I will work together. You will find Gyp's murderer. I will kill him."
I tell him, "I want nothing to do with any vendetta! My answer is no."
"No!" he screams raising the shotgun.
"Jaco, Jake, Jackal! Wait! I..." Again he screams, "No!" aiming the shotgun.
I stare straight down the O of the shotgun's barrel.
He says two words and fires. The two words are Get down!
TheFBI Agent says, "Paulo, Don Giuseppe's son, has started a Mob War over the death of his father. He believes the assassin who shotgunned Don Giuseppe and Gyp and is now after him. "You're the only one who's seen the killer." I'm shown a sketch of a Frankenstein's Monster look-alike. "Is this Gyp's killer?"
"No," I tell her, "not even close, "Who is he?"
"The Jackal." A killer-for-hire. His weapon is a shotgun. Have you ever heard of him?"
Don Paulo asks, "Have you found Gyp's murderer?"
"I, aaah have. . . umm haven't. . . ."
"Your failure in this matter, says the Don, "is very disappointing." He reaches into his coat and pulls out half my "Lucky Deck." The half I gave to Jenny. "I have the girl. You can have her back if you bring me Gyp's murderer. Otherwise. . . ."
I don't know what I was going to say to the Don. It was probably going to be something stupid that was going to get me killed. I never got the chance. Just then the three men watching the redhead on the pole pull out guns and start blasting away.
"Give me your invitation to the House of Cards! screams the Ugly Man. "Give it to me or die!"
"I don't have an Invitation. . . ."
The Ugly Man howls. He floors the taxi's accelerator and jumps out. We speed straight down the alley for the brick wall. Jenny screams. The wall comes closer . . . and closer . . . and suddenly the taxi begins to slow. I watch the speedometer's needle move down 5 | 0 ... 60 ... 70 I check the fuel gauge. It reads \E.
"We're out of gas!" I yell. "We're out of. . . ."