"All Hail Hack Tucker"

Copyright © 2007 - Mike Ricksecker

(Another perspective from a scene in System of the Dead)

 

Smoke billowed from the tables and swelled in a storm cloud along the ceiling of the small gambling den. Chips clinked above the murmur of the meager crowd and the whir of a roulette wheel emanated from a far corner.

At a table in the back of the den in which a half dozen patrons were playing Texas Hold 'Em, Tony, notorious around Fallsbury for his shrewd card playing, jolted in his seat and pointed a steel finger across the table. “You’re cheatin’, Jay! Man, I saw you pullin’ that card from the bottom of the deck!”

Jay's eyes narrowed to small slits but a fury welled up behind them. “I done no such thing! Don’t you be calling me a cheat and ruinin’ my rep. You just ticked off that you losin’ so bad.”

“Your rep? It’s my rep what’s at stake here. Man, I don't ever lose to your ass, you suck so bad at cards. I think you learned a couple-a tricks at cheatin' and you been usin' 'em.”

Jay spread his hands. “Everyone has a bad night, T. You just pissed that I'm kickin' back and pullin' the dough, gettin' back some of what's mine.”

“Don't call me T.”

The argument settled down, but Tony waxed Jay with a menacing glare and Jay smirked in response.

 

#

 

The night waned and the den hummed in a steady rhythm. There was a brief burst of excitement when the gambling den's proprietor, Hack Tucker, sauntered in with a stoned blonde on either arm and offered them up to the highest bidder. A crusty middle-aged man in a tattered pork pie hat dumped his entire pile of chips at Hack's feet and stumbled up the stairs with the pair. It was hard to tell who pulled whom to the top as each of the three tripped along the way. Hack immediately began taking bids for the second hour. All hail Hack Tucker.

The den fell back into its lull in short order, the smoke hanging thicker in its slumber. Hack had just sent the winner of the second bid upstairs to collect when Tony shouted from the back, “You did it again, you mother-fucker!”

In a blur through the haze, Tony had Jay by the collar across the table and pummeled him dead in the face. Jay swung back and clipped Tony on the chin. Eyes bulging, Tony pushed the shorter man through a rear door into a small storage room and slammed the door. Indiscernible shouts echoed from the room and the thrashing of bodies rocked the walls. The fight suddenly ended almost as soon as it had begun.

Hack, a half dozen steps into a trot toward the storage room, turned to the gambling den who had fixated on the scene. “Alright, we’re gonna call it a night. Same time next week. I’ll send word if we, uh, gotta change location.”

With groans and looks of disgust, the patrons filed out of the make-shift casino and into the cold night. When the room had cleared save for Hack’s mop-haired flunky Matt, Hack stepped up to the small storage room and peeled open the door.

Tony leaned against the far wall, bloody switchblade knife in hand, and wiped something wet off his mustache with his shirt sleeve. Jay was sprawled out on the floor, a similar knife in his hand but lacking the crimson bodily fluid. A dark stain spilled from his gut.

“Crap.” Hack glared at Tony. “How the hell can I develop my business if you’re killing off my customers, T?”

“You know not to call me T.”

“I don’t care what you do or don’t like to be called. Word’s gonna get around, man.”

Matt stepped in behind Hack. “Nobody knows it went down like this. They just think this dude and Tony got in a fight. How are they gonna find out?”

“Somebody’s gonna miss him. Shit. Let me think.” Hack remained motionless while he pondered. What could he do? If he turned a blind eye to what Tony had done he could get nailed for aiding and abetting. This was one the cops could easily link to him – and he’d go nuts over any more jail time, especially the ten to fifteen kind. If he turned Tony over then Hack becomes a marked man and somebody, whether it was Tony or one of his friends, would kill him. Hack figured there was only one thing to do. “It’s a gambling beef he’s got with Tony so T beats the crap out of him for cheatin' and swindlin' money. We spread word that Jay skipped town 'cause he ain’t got the bread to cover what he should have lost. So we better find the best damn hiding place for this body.”

Tony frowned and crossed his arms. “Well, maybe. I suppose we could just dump him in the river?”

Hack shook his head. “Nah. The body will wash up on shore in no time.”

Matt shrugged. “Well, I don't think we can bury him. We'd have to take him out of town and there'd be blood in the car. It's all cold and rainy, and then we’d have to dig a deep hole so some animal doesn’t dig him up. We ain't got time for all that.”

“Alright, I think I got it.” Hack pointed to a supply of large garbage bags on a shelf in the small room. “Get as many big bags and sheets of plastic as you can find. Get some rope. We’re gonna package him up and toss him in a dumpster.”

Tony scoffed. “Come on. Some dumpster-divin’ bum will find him.”

“Not where we’re going.”

 

#

 

The cold rain pelted their jackets in the depths of the dark alley, the wet pavement lustrous like black ice. It may as well have been; it was only about 36 degrees. Tony and Matt hefted the dead weight of the body up to Hack who stood atop a top-loading dumpster.

Matt turned to Tony. “I could have sworn I saw someone walk back here.”

“Nah. You is just seeing things, man. Most of these shops are out of business. Must have been something funny with the lights.”

Matt looked around the blackness of the alley as rain dripped in his eyes. “Yeah, the lights.”

Hack had assured them that the alley was virtually abandoned, although trash collection still came for two small shops that remained, making it an ideal anonymous dumping spot even if the body was eventually found at the landfill. Matt pushed what he thought he saw from his mind.

Once they had lifted Jay’s body up to Hack, Hack dumped it into the container. He clapped his hands. “That ought to do it.”

Suddenly, there was a clattering near the mouth of the alley. Matt punched Tony in the arm. “See, I told you.”

Tony glared at Matt but then sprang toward the source of the noise. Hack hopped down as Tony dragged back a writhing bundle of a small, round Hispanic man who looked like a pear, drenched and shivering.

“Did he see anything?”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Hack grabbed the small man by his sopping jacket. “Did you see anything?”

The man was unresponsive; he just turned his head away and whimpered.

Hack wondered if this sack of flesh even spoke English and shook him. “Did you see anything, you shit?”

“No, no.”

Tony yelled, “You better not have or I’ll have to do to you what I done --”

“Tony, shut up!” Hack’s eyes pierced Tony’s startled gaze then turned back to the man in his hands. He slammed him against the back door of one of the shops. “You ain’t seen nothin’, you got that? If you’re stupid enough to open your mouth ‘bout anything you think you seen, then you’re gonna pay, fool!”

The man against the door finally mustered a bit of strength and pressed against Hack to try to escape, but Hack slammed him against the door again and kept him pinned.

“I don’t have no money!”

Suddenly, the door flew open and both Hack and the small Hispanic man crashed onto the floor of a storeroom in the back of a shop. Hack looked up into the face of someone so completely out of place to this moment that he almost didn’t recognize it. Back in the alley, Tony and Matt stood dumbstruck.

“Hack Tucker, what the hell are you up to now?” The voice belonged to private investigator Chase Michael DeBarlo.

DeBarlo knew Hack well and used him as a street informant. Anytime Hack tried to get the upper hand, DeBarlo always threw back the fact that he held a drawer full of evidence that could put Tucker away for a good number of years. DeBarlo was a straight-shooter which was a pisser because he didn’t let much slide when he caught Hack and his boys up to something. The real paradox that busted Hack’s nut, however, was that even though DeBarlo used his dark looks and charm to pick up the raven-haired, milky white-skinned Monique Courbure when Hack had been watching her from afar for months, in a way, Hack respected DeBarlo -- but there was no way in hell he’d ever let him know.

Hack sprang to a knee, keeping his quarry pinned to the storeroom floor with the other, and shook the rain out of his short, brown hair. “DeBarlo? Man, why you always getting’ in my business?”

“No problem. I’ll just add it to the file. Who is this on the floor?”

Tucker’s mind raced. What story could he churn out? The guy on the floor said something about money, or at least not having any, didn’t he? Had DeBarlo heard that? And what the hell was DeBarlo doing here anyway? Only two of these six shops were in operation and this wasn’t one of them. Why had the derelict alley suddenly become so damned busy when they were just looking to stash the body real quick and get away? Maybe they should have dumped Jay in the river after all.

“This here sack o’ garbage owes me the money I let him borrow. I’m just trying to take back the shit that’s rightfully mine.”

DeBarlo pasted him with the look of an empty plate. “You’re a loan shark now?”

Tony and Matt pushed in, grabbed the man splayed on the floor, and yanked him outside. Hack rose and straightened his back as if he’d just been given the position of the next highbrow butler at the Kiddering estate. “I’m not a loan shark. I’m a funds broker.”

The private investigator looked skeptical. “Funds broker?”

“That’s right, detective man.” Hack’s posture shifted back to street-style. “I provide funds and if I don’t get back what’s mine with interest then you get broke.”

DeBarlo shook his head and tapped his trench coat pocket where Hack knew the man’s cell phone resided. The PI had threatened to call the cops on him countless times before. “Hack, your humor is pitiful. Are you going to let this guy go or should I have you hauled in for assault and battery?”

“The dude owes me money.”

“The dude doesn’t have it. He can’t wave his magic wand and make it magically appear.”

Hack didn’t care about letting the guy go. He probably hadn’t seen anything anyway, but Tucker played it up and shook a fist. “Screw you, DeBarlo. The guy’s gotta learn that I don’t take this crap from no one. An’ if I let him go then all his buddies are gonna think I’m soft. An’ if they think I’m soft then I ain’t never gonna see my money again.”

“Then maybe you ought to find your punk self another business.”

Hack took it one step further and lunged at DeBarlo with a balled fist. The detective side-stepped the punch, caught Hack’s arm on the way by, then wrenched it behind his back. He slammed Tucker against the wall and pinned him hard.

“I still don’t understand why you try to go here with me, Hack.”

Hack struggled to get free, but after a half minute of futility he caved. “Asshole. Let him go, guys.”

Tony and Matt released their grips on the little Hispanic man and he darted out of the alley. DeBarlo let Hack go when the pear-shaped image had faded into the night.

“Now, was that so hard?”

Hack brushed off his jacket. “You oughtta make that up to me. You oughtta give me some sort of job so we can make up for lost earnings.”

DeBarlo eyed the three and Hack thought for a moment that the PI might actually give them some sort of work. That usually meant pumping some information out of someone on the street for ten minutes and getting a cool fifty or a hundred under the table. Wouldn’t it be something to dump a body and get DeBarlo-boy to cough up something worth a few bucks all in the span of ten minutes? Or was he going to whip out that damn cell phone?

“Nah, not this time.”

Private investigator Chase Michael DeBarlo pushed Hack out of the storeroom, closed the door, and walked out of the alley without another word. Tony and Matt surrounded Hack, but were also speechless save for a few awe-struck mutterings about the story Tucker had concocted on the fly.

Hack clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Well, how about that, boys? Let’s get the hell out of this rain. Those two blondes will be waiting for us.”

All hail Hack Tucker.