The Silver Wraith


She is sleek.

She is curvy.

Voluptuous.

Sultry.

Sensual.

“You’re gone, pal.”

Chick is gone.  He’s absent.  He’s vacant.

Enamored.

Smitten.  Only this time, Cupid’s aim was somehow off, as if the cherub of love, bumped into a beehive or was crawling out of a three-day bender.

“Chick?  You gotta stop daydreaming; we got a job to do.  You have to put your nose to the grindstone and all that.”

“What?  Why would I do that?”

“Stop daydreaming?  Because we have a job to do and Melvin is gonna get mad that we’re not doing that job…”

“No, why would I put my nose to a grindstone?”

“Just hurry up and tail them.”

“No, Larry, there’s no point; we know where they’re going and how long it takes for them to get there…all of the stop signs, the stoplights, the traffic, the whole shebang.  Surveillance is redundant at this point.”

“Re-what?”

“We’re wasting our time following them around; we’d be chasing our own tail.”

If you were to stumble upon this duo, the first thing that you would notice was the size of Larry Davies.  He is so tall that he makes the 1940 Buick Coupe that they are sitting in look like a child’s pedal car.  Charles “Chick” Carpenter is a man of average height and size, not to mention that Larry has about a nine inch advantage in reach on him and that he could make short work of Chick in this confined space.

So, as Larry leans into him with his lips snarled in a grimace, most men would open up the door and bail, or they would get religion fast and pray to God to strike down Larry.  Because they couldn’t faze Larry if he spotted them five free punches with brass knuckles.  Yet Chick glares at Larry with the defiance and confidence of a mongoose staring down a King Cobra.  Chick bares his teeth and bites his lower lip hard.  Larry recoils and the Buick noticeably leans towards the curb.

“Damn you, Chick, Melvin is going to put two bullets in each of us!  He said we have to follow them at all times and no exceptions!”

Chick’s teeth lift, Larry looks away as if Chick has just slapped him.  Chick’s specialty is driving cars, as a smuggler or as a getaway driver.  But if the one thing that he has learned to do, is to look for the weaknesses in others and uses those weaknesses as a means for his survival.

As big as Larry is, Chick knows that he is basically as useless as a howitzer with no shells, because what good is hired muscle, when that goon is as soft as a marshmallow?  Larry fears the sight of blood.  Though make no mistake, Chick is not without his own little failings.  He’s fallen head over heels in love with a woman that is almost 206 inches long and she weighs over two tons…

…a 1946 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.

***

All of his life short and miserable life, Melvin Corey had grew up on the waterfront of San Francisco, watching the ships come and go.  Watching boxes and crates of things that despite his best efforts, he could never afford.  Watching people leave for exotic ports and destinations, when the only times that he was ever on a boat was to visit his father, who was doing thirty years at Alcatraz.

Now Melvin wasn’t the smartest or the luckiest man in the world, but he was always the one that recognized opportunities.  So three weeks ago while he was casing out the mansions at the edge of the Presidio, on Arguello Boulevard, he noticed the resemblance in someone passing by to that of somebody else that was famous…world famous.

Melvin knew right then and there that his days as a second-story man were over; his ship had finally come in.  So, as Melvin puts his feet up on the desk, slides his hat over his eyes, and counts the money he is going to make like other people count sheep, his bliss ends with the slamming of the warehouse’s door.  Melvin’s sunny disposition is ruined by the unmistakable massive feet of Larry coming up the stairs.

He jumps to his feet as they enter the office and he tilts hat down toward his furrowed eyebrows.  Melvin didn’t survive a grenade exploding just feet away from him in Saipan and getting stabbed twice since he got back from the war, to have his ship sail away without him.  The worried look on Larry’s face was not comforting, nor was the lackadaisical manner of Chick.

“You two are not supposed to be here, The Package is going to get away,” Melvin grumbles.”

Chick points the various pieces of paper on Melvin’s desk and grumbles back “The Package is at the same place it is always at on the weekdays.”

From pieces as small as corner store receipts, to butcher paper, it’s all written.  The comings and goings of the Rolls Royce and The Package are all documented.  The times vary by six minutes at the most, so you can’t exactly set a watch to them, yet there is no deviation in where the car travels.

Chick leans forward and says just so that Melvin can hear him, “I’m not trying to tell you how to run things, buddy, but you sure are going about everything all wrong.”

“I don’t pay you to think!”

“That’s the thing; you’ve barely paid me at all.  I’ve put in almost three weeks on this job and the fifty dollars that you fronted me ran out a long time ago.”

Melvin’s jaw would drop if it weren’t clenched so tight in anger.  He looks at Chick incredulously, then he motions for Larry to take care of him and Chick grabs Melvin’s letter opener.  Larry closes in on Chick until points the sharp end of the opener at his own left index finger.

Larry stops in his tracks, no small feat at all and he pales.  Chick advances, Larry backpedals and trips, landing on the linoleum with the thunder of felled tree.  The desk hops from the impact and so does Melvin.  Chick pricks his finger and Larry faints like Fay Wray before King Kong.

“You see?  This is exactly what I’m talking about, this big baby is going to chicken out as soon as the tough gets going.”

“What are you scared of, Larry?  Take this trash out of here!”

“That won’t work, Mel, he’s scared of the sight of blood.”

“He’s what?  That’s nonsense, Larry, get up and make short work of him!”

Larry is out cold.  His tongue is lolling out of his mouth, his arms are splayed and he looks like an upside down bear rug.

Chick sneers “like I said, I’m not trying to tell you how to run things, Melvin, but we’re going to have to be practical about this, some things are going to have to change.”

Chick fills a glass of water and says calmly, “we’re going to need a reliable crew and this wilting flower here…”  Chick throws the water in Larry’s face, “has to go.”

Larry sputters, but he doesn’t quite come to.  Melvin is aghast and Chick merely shrugs.

“What the hell?  How did you...I’ve known him for eight years and I’ve never seen him act like this!”

“No offense, but there’s a lot things that you don't notice, but I do.  You’re a burglar, right?”

The tell-tale bulge of his eyes confirms Chick’s suspicions, Chick presses-

“This is no goon and if you’re a crime boss, I’m Al Capone.  You pay like crap, though most do.  You don’t dress the part though; you wear only two suits and neither one fits you.  Nothing in this office matches, most likely you take whatever you can get to furnish this place.  Plus you want to spend entirely too much time casing the car and the package, you’re not exactly sure when to pull this off.”

“I’ll give you that one, but how did you know that Larry would faint?”

“He can’t stand the sight of blood, he’s a hemophiliac.  My brother told me the time he went down for his draft physical and he saw a big guy just like your muscle here, that was labeled “4F” because he couldn’t bear to see the red stuff.  I didn’t put it together until yesterday he starts swooning like a girl in a B-picture at the sight of what was leftover of raccoon on the road.

“Let’s be honest here, Melvin, I don’t want to go to jail and you don’t either, especially for kidnapping because that might be a life sentence.  We need some guys that we can rely on and I’d just as soon not throw in with you if this is your idea of someone who is supposed to scare anybody but himself.”

“What’s gonna keep me from plugging you full of lead?" Melvin snaps as he yanks a .38 revolver out of his drawer.

“You’re a second-story man, not a killer.  He’s not going to help you get rid of my body, either.  You keep going the way the way you are, they’re going to call you 'Bruno Hauptman Jr,' because you’re going to make the Lindbergh Kidnapping seem a success in comparison.”

Melvin slowly puts the revolver back in the drawer and closes it.  “Do you have someone in mind?” he grumbles as he sits down in his chair and slumps in defeat.

“Do you know ‘Cactus?’  I’d like to use him as muscle,” Chick says with in impassive face, though his confident tone betrays his cockiness.

“He’s pretty shifty, can we trust him?”

“You can’t, I can.  And, we’ll need Rod Chaffers.”

Melvin leaps to his feet and jabs a finger, “no, no way am I cutting someone else in, a four-way split is out of the question!”

“Believe you me, brother, when I tell you that I would love nothing more than to just keep the car.  Yet, we can’t drive the package around in the Rolls, Melvin, once people figure out that it’s gone.  That car will stick out like a hundred-foot-tall neon sign in the desert at three in the morning.  There should be two of us to make sure that the package stays in the box and one of us has to ditch the car.  Are you going to get your hands dirty and demand ransom at the same time?”

Melvin pretends like he is mulling it over a good long time, but he recognized all of these problems before he even came up with this idea.  Greed had won over practicality up until this moment, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t do away with it after the deed is done.

“All right, I’ll cut your boys in, but let’s make something perfectly clear; just because I’m letting someone else in, that doesn’t mean that you’re getting the lion’s share or that I’ll let you try and double-cross me.”

“Brother, this is clearly your caper.  I just want it all to run smooth so that none of us wind up in jail or on the wrong end of a bullet.  Now, what’s actual name of 'The Package?' "

“All I know is his last name is Weiss.  As far as I know, he has no parents or grandparents.  I do know the neighborhood and it costs a pretty penny to live there.  That house alone is worth almost more than the all the other houses on that block put together, we’re talking millions.  One of the maids that goes to church with my sister, did say that his uncle was in show business and that he made a fortune.”

“She didn’t give you nothing else?”
“The maid also said something about “they like to do Aleutians,” though I have no idea what that is supposed to mean.  The maid ain’t all there, if you know what I mean and neither is my sister.  It’s like the goofy leading the goofy.”

“So if you don’t know who lives there, how are we going to phone in the ransom?”

“We’re going to mail a note and get this, here’s the beauty of it, when they fingerprint it?  The only prints that they’ll find are those of the Assistant Police Chief!  I have three different typewriters already set up to type the ransom notes and when they call us, they won’t be able to trace the number.”

“What do you mean, 'They won’t be able to trace the number?' "

“Because that’s my regular job, I work for the phone company and I’ll be taking over a dead line when they make that call.”

“Where are we going to hold this 'Weiss?' "

“There’s a shack in the hills above Millbrae, and I already have food and water up there.”

“No, we have to wait until next week.”

“Melvin, if we do any more surveillance, they will get wise.  We have to pull the trigger, figuratively, before somebody does it to us, literally.”
***

Hephaestus is not happy, that same black 1940 Buick Coupe has appeared in his mirror again.  He has noticed it for the past nine days and now, it is not even bothering with the pretense of keeping a certain distance.  As a matter of fact, it is coming up too fast.

“Master Weiss?” asks the chauffeur into the rearview mirror, but the young Weiss is deeply immersed in studying a book.  The chauffeur knows that when the wavy-haired lad is concentrating, that he is not to be disturbed.  Hephaestus decides that it is best to take a detour from the usual route and he turns down one of the less-traveled roads in Golden Gate Park.  The Rolls pulls away effortlessly and the Buick is almost a tiny speck in the mirror until Hephaestus's eyes return to the road in front of them to see a tractor blocking the road.

The brakes of the Rolls lock up and the car slides into a controlled skid, pulling up just millimeters from the tractor.  Before Hephaestus can reach under the dash for his gun, a man covered in pockmarks and that is almost big as Larry leaps out from the bushes.  He hits Hephaestus with a blackjack.  The chauffeur reels and the man hits him again.  Hephaestus slumps onto the steering wheel of the Rolls and the horn blares.  The Buick pulls up behind them and Chick jumps out.

Chick pulls Hephaestus from the horn and glares at Cactus for not already doing so; the big man just shrugs with a smile.

The moment the chauffeur hits the ground and Chick slides into his place, he knows that something is wrong with the car…that is, it isn’t quite right.  The car’s engine is not the smooth, purring straight six-cylinder engine that he heard in England just two years ago.  It has been replaced with a V-8, and this is like taking the soul of a woman and replacing it with one of an animal.  He quickly glances in the review mirror to look for traffic and to see if the chauffeur is being disposed of properly.

Cactus drags the wounded driver into the bushes.  Chick is not in love with the too-strong response of this transplanted monster; the V-8 is going to get them in trouble if he isn’t too careful.  It is bad enough driving something that is as noticeable as this fine piece of work, a motorcycle cop on the lookout for speeders would take notice if he were to go even three miles an hour over the speed limit, figuring that if anyone could afford a ticket.

“Cactus…just grab the kid and I’ll pull the car off the road.”  The massive hand of Cactus grabs the rear door and opens it.  The eyes of the young Weiss stay affixed on the tome in front of him and he whispers some words.  Red smoke belches out of the exhaust and engine compartment of the Buick, then it shuts down.

“Damn it, Rod, I told you to keep that engine running?” Chick yells.  Rod leans out of the coupe and holds his hands up in exasperation.  Chick drags the limp Hephaestus into the bushes, and then he runs over to the Buick.

“Get that thing started, Rod!”

“I can’t, it won’t turn over!”

“Hold on, I’ll open the hood,” Chick barely gets out before flames leap out from the Buick's engine bay.

“Screw this!  C’mon, bring the suitcase,” says Chick and Rod pulls a suitcase out.

Chick walks up to Cactus, who apparently is just standing there, looking into the car.

“Why haven’t you tied him up yet?”

Cactus whines “he won’t look up at me.”

“So?”

Cactus shrugs and Chick pushes him into the car, and then shuts the door behind him.  Rod gets into the driver’s seat, but he is pushed to the passenger’s side.

“I thought I was supposed to drive, Chick!”

“A mutt like you is not driving this beauty, no way, no how!” Chick exclaims as he pulls Rod’s hat over his eyes.

The Buick’s engine fire rises higher as they pull away.  Rod watches it as they do a U-turn and pass the flaming car.  As they round the bend and it disappears from their view, Weiss whispers again and the flames disappear.  The car returns to as it was before, as if nothing has happened.

“Chick, this car is a bad idea…this job is a bad idea, I have a bad feeling about this…”

Chick shuts Rod up with a quick slap.  He looks in the rearview mirror and sees that Cactus seems to be wary of their young victim.

“Why haven’t you tied him up yet, Cactus?”

Cactus swallows hard and croaks, “He just keeps reading that book and mumbling.”

Chick’s eyes shift towards the boy that they know as “Weiss.”  He’s not particularly tall, he’s wearing a prep school uniform, his hair is wavy and Chick gets the feeling that he has seen the boy somehow, when Chick was younger.  That can’t be right, because this Weiss can’t be much older than eighteen.

“I can’t do the thinking for everybody.  Just be a man, you’re dealing with a kid, for Pete’s sake.”

The pincushion face of Cactus grows long and somber.  He barks, “Hey, kid!  Hey, look at me!”

The teen passes a hand through his wavy-hair and whispers louder in some language that no one other than him in this car can recognize.

“I said, “Look at me!” Cactus screams as he backhands Weiss.  His head recoils from the blow, but his eyes remain transfixed on the book.  Cactus tries to punch him, but his punch misses and almost connects with the passenger window.  Weiss puts the book down between them, and then his portion of the seat shifts and goes back.  The would-be victim slides back towards the trunk and disappears.

“Uh, Chick?”

“What?!  Have you tied him up yet?”

“Uh, Chick?  He’s gone…”

Chick quickly, but calmly, pulls the Rolls over.  He, Rod and Cactus all stare the spot where the kid was just moments ago.

“What?  Where did he go?”

Cactus swallows again and mumbles, “In the trunk, I guess.”

Chick hurriedly gets out of the car and opens the trunk.  Inside the trunk is the back of the passenger seats, the cloth that covers that and the particle board that covers the spare tire.  Chick lifts the board up and there is nothing but the spare tire, tire wrench and the jack.  Chick turns around to see if somehow their would-be victim had escaped somehow before he came to a stop, but there are no pedestrians.

He hurries into the car, starts it and turns it around again.

“Did you find him?”

“If I found him, dummy, wouldn’t he be sitting next to you right now?  He must have jumped out somehow.  You watch for him on the right side and Rod will watch the left.”

Chick drives slowly, partly because he doesn’t want Weiss to get away, but mostly because he doesn’t want to attract the attention of the police.  A car behind them honks and it startles Cactus so much that he nearly jumps through the roof.  Chick pulls over and lets the car pass, and the glare he gives the driver as he goes by, scares him into accelerating like a rocket.

“Chick, this is a swell car, I’ll bet we could get a fortune for it.  Why don’t we just forget about the kid and sell the 'Silver Wrait.' "

“It’s “Wraith,” you dumb mutt!”

“I thought you said it was a “Rolls Royce?”

“It’s a 'Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.'  'Wraith' is the model name; it means 'spirit' or 'ghost.' "

“You call me the 'dumb mutt?'  Those guys who made this are dumb for naming a car after a 'ghost!'  It’s bad luck, it is!”

“Will you just…”

Darkness overwhelms them in the form of a falling tree that is plummeting towards them.  Chick stops the car in a panic and they all throw their arms above their heads as if they could actually stop a eucalyptus tree with their arms.  There’s a loud crash and everything goes dark.

***

“Chick?  Chick?  Wake up, Chick.”

Cactus nudges Chick and lightly slaps him.  Instinctively, Chick’s left hand grabs the right arm of Cactus and he comes to.  The eight-cylinder engine is still burbling along.  He can barely see Cactus, Rod or the car, so Chick turns the headlights on.  The little light that reflects back at them, shows that there is no damage to the car.

“Where are we?” Chick groans.

“That’s the thing, Chick, I got no idea,” Cactus whines like a scared child.  “I don’t see no trees or nuthin’, and there’s nowhere in Golden Gate Park that don’t have any trees.”

“Maybe we’re not in Golden Gate Park,” Rod comes to and Chick can see his bulging white eyes.

“Don’t be stupid, Rod, look around, it’s dark.  This car has a bigger gas tank than most, but it would’ve run out of gas by now.  Next thing you’ll tell me is that the car drove itself to wherever we are.”

“You said yourself that the car was a ghost…”

“Shut up with that nonsense!  Look, get out and find that kid!  The sooner you do that, the sooner we’ll get out of here!”

Chick reaches across and behind Rod.  He opens the door and pushes Rod out.  Rod clings to the threshold and Chick slaps his fingers.  Rod falls back…and falls down, with a blood-curdling, plummeting scream.  Chick scampers over to the passenger side and looks out of the door.  He cannot see anything but murky darkness and whatever light that remains off of the headlights, that hasn’t been swallowed up by the darkness.

Rod’s scream remains, though it grows fainter.  Chick opens the glove box and he finds a flashlight.  He points it out of the door. The flashlight’s beam goes on for at least seventy feet down, and only the relative weakness of the bulb prevents it from illuminating further.  Chick swings the light around outside the car; there is no road…or ground at all.

Cactus lets out a baritone yelp and Chick puts the light in his face.  Cactus points to the book that Weiss was reading in what seemed like not so long ago, and the pages are slowly turning on their own.  Chick turns the flashlight off and he starts the car.

“Don’t go any further, we’ll fall like Rod!” shrieks Cactus.

“We can’t be better off just sitting here!” replies Chick as calmly as he can.  They pull forward and Cactus reaches through the partition window, and grabs Chick by the throat.  His massive fingers latch onto Chick’s neck like a vise and Chick gags.  The car goes left and right, but apparently there is no road that they can swerve off from.

A light appears in the driver’s side mirror and Cactus loosens his grip.  Color returns to Chick’s face and he gasps for air.  Cactus touches his own face as the light in the mirror appears brighter, then becomes clearer.  It is a skull and Cactus audibly gasps.  He fights with his own hands, as they seem to want to cover his eyes.

Cactus catches a glimmer just to the right of his feet, then the glimmer strikes and cuts his Achilles heel.  Cactus lets out a painful shriek like a blue jay whose back has been pierced by the claws of a hawk.  He lifts his bleeding leg just in time as a small hand with a straight-razor swings in an arc where his leg was.

“Get us out of here, Chick!  For the love of God, get us out of here!” wails Cactus.  His lips tremble as the razor slowly emerges again, this time from the ceiling.  He turns aside as the blade takes a clumsy swipe at him.  The tears flow from his eyes just like when he was first born, as he curls into a fetal ball on the seat.

A small right hand grabs the head of Cactus and pins him to the seat.  Before he can sit up, a left hand emerges from the seat and there is a flash.

“Cactus?  Cactus, I’m talking to you, answer me!”  Chick comes to a stop and looks back.  He refuses to believe his own eyes, so he reaches for the flashlight and the light shows Cactus with his eyes a blank stare, and a thin red line across his neck.  Chick reaches back and shakes Cactus. Cactus’s head tumbles off of his neck.

Chick recoils and hits his back on the steering wheel; the car’s horn startles him back towards the rear seat again.  Chick hears the rustling of pages and shines the flashlight towards the sound.  He sees the young Weiss sitting next to the bleeding feet of Cactus, and the book that Weiss is holding seems to be absorbing Chick’s blood.

A shining gray hand grabs Chick’s right shoulder and Chick hits it with the flashlight.  The light of the flashlight goes out, then the lights of the Rolls go out as well.  It almost pitch dark, save for several glowing gray shapes that are just outside of the car.  Chick blinks in the darkness and determines that one of the shapes seems to be wearing clothes from just before World War I.

One of the shapes opens the front passenger door and Chick smacks the flashlight, in an effort to get it to turn on.  The light illuminates a hideous face that is only half-covered in flesh, and the flesh that is there, is gray, white, green and decayed.  Chick’s face trembles and twists; he recognizes whatever it is before him as Gus Milaca.  Milaca disappeared about two years ago and his specialty was kidnapping.

An undecipherable rattle creaks out of what is left of Gus’s throat and he reaches for Chick.  Chick stumbles out of the car into the arms of those that came before Chick and Gus.  Chick screams in terror as the smell of decay fills his lungs and so many teeth sink into his flesh.

***

It is dark.  Hephaestus can’t see his own fingers in front of his face, so then he tries rolling over.  He crawls out of the bushes and wonders just where he is.  He sees the tractor and the Buick, and he is overwhelmed with disappointment.  Hephaestus has let young Master Weiss down.  He goes back into the bushes and up the hill, though the hill may as well be a mountain from all the blood that he has lost and his concussion.

Hephaestus hears the sound of cars and the hope that they bring, put lift into his legs.  He reaches the sidewalk above and he realizes that he is on Lincoln Way.  He flags down a police car.

***

It is when they pull up behind the Rolls Royce.  The luxury car is parked sideways near a gardening path and there is a faint light coming from the rear, inside.  They put their spotlights on the Rolls and approach it with their guns drawn.  The driver searches the car, and then searches around the car.

Moments later, the patrolman motions for his partner and Hephaestus to come forward.  The chauffeur peeks into the car and sees Master Weiss, seemingly content and reading his book by candlelight.

“He looks okay for now…are you sure you just didn’t go on a bender and you forgot, leaving the kid all alone by himself?”

“I assure you I would never do such a thing,” Hephaestus says through clenched teeth.

“Well, you’re going to have to come down to the station to give a description of these guys,” says the second patrolman.

“We cannot do that,” the chauffeur replies stiffly.

The first patrolman gets so close to Hephaestus that he can smell his breath. 

“Look, you may drive a fancy car, but that doesn’t mean that whoever started this just gets to roam around free, nor does it mean that you get to waste our time.  We called this in, we spent an hour of our time helping you look for the kid and the car, and we’re not going to get into all the other officers that were stuck on this wild goose chase too.  Now, you are going to come to the station and you are going to tell us just who this kid is, and why it is so important that someone may or may not have kidnapped him!”

“All you need to know of the young master, is that he is the nephew of someone who once was great,” Hephaestus scoffs, and reaches into his wallet to pull out a card.  “Mayor Lapham does not need to contend with another recall election this soon and this card says that we will be leaving without further delay.”

The first patrolman looks the card over in the light, and then waves Hephaestus on.  The chauffeur gets in, starts the car and pulls away.  As they pull out of Golden Gate Park, Hephaestus mutters, “I don’t even know why you keep me on, other than to open and close your door.  I swear, this car drives itself.”

The nephew of Houdini smiles before he blows out the candle.



The End


6 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

A classy. super well written tale.

Cormac Brown said...

Paulie Decibels,

Thank you for the compliment, and thank you very much for leaving a comment.

Lewis J Peters said...

Haunting.

Cormac Brown said...

Lewis,

Thanks, but I wish...

Mike Wilkerson said...

Brown, you always throw us a twist in the end. You'll have to include O. Henry in with the crime/horror/pulp descriptions of your work.

And as it's already been said, classy.

Cormac Brown said...

Mike,

Wow, thank you!