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I’ve recently begun writing big-budget fantasy novels. The first question interviewers ask me is almost invariably, “Why did you switch from military SF to fantasy?”

The truth—as this volume proves—is that I started out writing fantasy. After I got back from Southeast Asia in 1971 I had first-hand knowledge of war and the military. I used that background in science fiction stories which eventually (and I mean eventually) got me a name for writing military SF; but I love fantasy, and I’ve never stopped writing it.

A British writer and editor, Michel Parry, edited a number of interesting original (or partly original) horror and fantasy anthologies in the 1970s. These didn’t pay a lot—I believe everything I sold Michel was at a penny a word—but they were sales (and to real publishers like Mayflower and Star) at a time when there were very few outlets in the US for fantasy. (More places in the US would buy SF. For the most part I got rejections from them, but there were at least magazines to which I could send my stories.)

One of Michel’s odder endeavors was to edit Devil’s Kisses and More Devil’s Kisses, anthologies of erotic horror stories, under the name Linda Lovecraft—the trademark of a chain of British sex shops. My understanding is that Linda Lovecraft, like Juan Valdez, was the figment of a marketing weasel’s imagination; I recall Michel saying that he’d wondered if he was going to have to appear in court in drag and a blond wig after the raid.

We’ll get to the raid later.

Michel asked me to submit to the second volume; I wrote “Smokie Joe.” (The idiosyncratic spelling “smokie” seemed right for the character. I don’t know why.) There’s sex in it, but I don’t want to meet the person who gets an erotic thrill from this one.

“Smokie Joe” is a deal-with-the-Devil story (set in Joliet, Illinois, though the setting isn’t crucial to the plot). My problem with most of the genre is that the Devil doesn’t come through as really evil. My Devil is evil; and I don’t trivialize evil, especially since I came back from Viet Nam.

Michel sent me a copy of More Devil’s Kisses hot off the presses. That was a good thing, because no sooner had the book hit the newsstands than the police impounded all copies on an obscenity complaint and briefly locked up the in-house editor. The charges were dropped when the publisher (Corgi) pulped the whole edition.

Because the matter didn’t go to trial, there’s no certainty as to which precise matters were the subject of the complaint. The best bet is that the Chris Miller piece had caused the problem, but that was a reprint from a magazine which had been sold in Britain without objection. The only other evidence is that when the book was brought out in Germany, two stories were dropped; Miller’s and “Smokie Joe.”

I’ve not only been banned in Britain, I’ve been banned in Germany too.

* * *

It was Saturday night but Tom Mullens’ numbers parlor was as still as the morgue Big Tom expected to grace the next day. He was sweating. He pretended not to, thinking that it would be read as fear by the three sets of eyes trained on him across the counting table; but the drops runneled out of his still-dark curls and down his beefy face. He had always bragged that his two knobbly fists made him a match for any cheap gunman. Tullio’s boys didn’t work cheap, and Big Tom’s throat had clogged with the old boast when he saw the cratered offal their Uzis had left of seven of his runners.

Lod Mahoney couldn’t have cared less about Mullens’ sweat: his eyes were blind and staring with his own fear. Lod was a paunchy, balding fifty-five, the armpits and long sleeves of his white shirt moist but his bow tie still a neat dark band of respectability. He had stayed this final, terrible week with Big Tom not out of loyalty but because he was only the bookkeeper he appeared to be. Criminal in his associations, not his instincts, Lod did not know how to run.

If Big Tom looked a boar at bay, his son Danny had the sulky nervousness of a well-whipped dog. His eyes darted back and forth among the others in the room, excited to be where he had never before been allowed, but pettish to know that it was only because his father did not trust him loose. Danny’s adolescent face was an armature for the conflicting emotions his mind threw on it. On Monday gunshots had called him to a window. Memory of what he had seen in the street now dolloped occasional terror onto his expression.

Across from Big Tom, his hands delicate but almost as dark as the scarred maple on which they lay, smiled Smokie Joe. His goatee bobbled in a humor that no one with him in the room could see. “I can find a couple hard boys,” he said in a honey-golden voice, “who can get you out of this yet, Big Tom.”

“What?” Mullens snarled, clenching a fist to wipe away the smirk he was sure underlay the words. But Smokie Joe’s calm belied a joke. The black eyes were placid, the perfect features composed beneath the slick black hair.”Iceman,” Big Tom muttered, but aloud he demanded, “All right, what’s the hitch? What does anybody out of a funny farm want to get mixed up with me now?”

“Oh, well,” his slim lieutenant said with the same suave ease that had taken him to the top of Mullens’ organization in the brief months since he had appeared. He spread his palms upward. “They’ll want a piece of the action, sure. Half of anything they generate after things get straightened around.”

“That’s nothing!” Big Tom said, astounded.

“Tom, they’ll be Syndicate—” blurted Mahoney, a new fear stamping itself across his face.

“Do you think I care?” Mullens shouted. He stood, his eyes flicking to the blinds drawn across windows in which bullet-proof Lexan had replaced the glass. He rolled his arms as if lifting a huge weight to his chest. “I won’t look at where help comes from now if it’ll take out Tullio,” he said. “My grandmother always said she was a witch, you know? When I saw this coming six months ago I opened her spell-book and prayed to the Devil he should help me. And I meant it, by God.”

“Thought it was that simple?” smiled Smokie Joe as he, too, rose to his feet. “One thing, though,” he added, leaning forward a little so that his knuckles rested on the table.”You’ve got a choice, Big Tom. But after you choose, there’s no going back . . . Do you understand?”

“I won’t go back on my word,” Mullens said. He took a deep breath because Smokie Joe seemed to have grown, to bulk huge in the artificial light. “I swear on my mother’s grave.”

“On your soul, Tom Mullens,” demanded the honeyed voice.

“I swear on my soul.”

“What the Hell do you think—” Danny Mullens began, but Smokie Joe’s contempt froze him at his father’s side.

“Hold your tongue when men talk, boy,” Joe sneered. Then, to the entrance-way door that should have been guarded by slack-faced Rudy Luscher, he called, “Come on in, boys.”

The door opened. Both the figures standing there were tall and dressed with the greasy casualness of back-yard mechanics. One was thin and pale, the other a squat giant whose stumpy legs gave him the build of a dwarf twice magnified. “Nick, Angelo; meet Big Tom Mullens, your new employer,” said Joe, his hand indicating the newcomers with the grace of an emcee bringing on the star turn.

“Where the fuck is Rudy?” Big Tom asked. “Drunk, asleep . . .” the giant shrugged.

“If your people were any good, you wouldn’t need us. ”His voice was incongruously as sweet as a chapel bell. “You want us to take out Tullio, Mr. Mullens?”

“Goddamned right,” Mullens agreed with an angry nod. “Any way you can.”

“And we’re part of your organization afterwards,” the corpse-pale newcomer added. Neither of them had any expression in their eyes.”We get half of anything we bring in, and you give us a free hand.”

“I already said so!”Big Tom blazed.”Now, do you stand here all night waiting for Tullio to set up one last hit?”

Smokie Joe broke in with a laugh that chilled the room.”Oh, don’t worry about Tullio. Not after tomorrow morning.”He was still laughing when Nick and Angelo turned and left the room. They closed the door very gently behind them.

The black Cadillac got a final dab before Tullio’s chauffeur folded the chamois and stepped back. Every Sunday morning he parked squarely in front of St Irenaeus to let out two bodyguards and his employer: Tullio had not missed mass or made confession in thirty-seven years. By now people knew not to take Tullio’s place at the curb. People knew—or they learned, like the owner of the red VW was going to learn. The chauffeur spat a gobbet that dribbled down the suitcase lashed like a dorsal fin to the Volkswagen’s roof.

The small bomb behind the altar of St Irenaeus rattled the Sunday quiet and shivered the rose window on the street side. The chauffeur’s jaw trembled. He dropped the cloth and jumped in to crank the big, silent engine of the Cadillac. The church doors slammed back, the bodyguards fanning to right and left with pistols in their hands. Tullio stumbled out behind them, his thin face yellow except where spatters of the priest’s blood had marked it. The trio scuttled down the steps, their eyes darting about the street like lizards’ tongues. Ruthless elbows and gun butts had ripped the gangsters through shocked churchgoers, but now the doors spilled out net-veiled women and men in dark suits.

The directional mine on the Volkswagen’s roof sawed them down with over a thousand steel pellets.

Tullio’s chauffeur hammered at his door, wedged by the force of the explosion. The four-inch glass of the windshield was fogged with shatter marks. The church facade was a haze of powdered stone; fresh splinters raised a hundred rosettes against the dark wood of the doors.

The steps of the church were an abattoir. In the middle of it sat Enrico Tullio, screaming like one of the damned. Much of the blood splashing him now was his own.

* * *

“Seventeen fucking bodies,” screamed Big Tom Mullens, “and you didn’t get Tullio! He’ll use an H-bomb on us now if he has to!”

“Tullio won’t use anything,” Nick said unconcernedly. He opened his black eyes and stared full at Mullens. The heavy gang-boss felt the impact. His stomach sucked in and he used the back of his right fist to wipe spittle from his mouth.

“Tullio lost his guts through the holes that Claymore put in him,” amplified Smokie Joe from the chair he had leaned back against the wall. “Sure, he’ll live. He’ll set up somewhere else, maybe go back to Chi and crawl to the boys who backed him for the takeover here. But you’ve seen the last of him, Big Tom. Every time he hears your name he’ll remember the blast and the blood pouring down the stone beside him. When you play for keeps, you play the man; and Tullio knows now he can’t play as hard as you.”

The phone rang, loud and terrible in the silent room. Danny Mullens bit blood from his lower lip and backed against the wall. Big Tom stared at the phone as if it were a cobra clamped on his leg.

“Go ahead, Big Tom,” rolled Smokie Joe’s smooth voice.”It can’t be worse than you’re already thinking, can it?”

Mullens shot him a glance full of violence. He had no one to back a play, though, beyond a terrified sixteen-year-old and a bookkeeper shock-stoned to immobility. He turned his anger on the caller instead, snarling, “Hello!” into the receiver. His red Irish face changed as he listened, moving through neutral blankness to beaming, incredulous triumph. “Sure,” he boomed, “but you got one hour. If you can’t get through the hospital bullshit by then, then God have mercy on you, Tullio—because I sure as Hell won’t.”

Whooping, Big Tom slammed down the receiver and swung over the table as if it were a vaulting horse. His arms embraced the two torpedoes. In his bubbling happiness he did not notice that they were still as coldly aloof as when he thought he had been tongue-lashing them for failure.

“Time to talk about payment, isn’t it, Big Tom?” suggested Smokie Joe easily.

“Pay? Oh, Christ, yeah,” Mullens said with startled generosity.”Look, what do you guys really want for what you done?”

“What you promised,” said bone-pale Angelo. “Half the take my girls pull in.”

“And half of what I turn from skag,” Nick added. “That’ll be plenty when a few kids get strung out and start pushing it to their friends.”

“Huh?” Big Tom said. “Jesus, nobody could get hooked on the shit that gets out here. It’s already been cut fifteen to one.”

“I’ve got contacts in Asia,” Nick grinned. “What I move’ll be pure as Ivory Soap.”

His words jogged a scrap of newsreel in Big Tom’s memory.”You were in Viet Nam, weren’t you?”he asked.”That’s where you learned to use one bomb to set up the real one out in front.”

“We were in Nam,” Angelo agreed with a smile that would have made a shark flinch. “We were sort of instructing there.”

Lod Mahoney stepped to Mullens’ side and caught him by the wrist.”Tom,” he pleaded, “for the love of God, you don’t mean to go into heroin? There’s money, there’s all the money we need in numbers. You know the people you got to deal with in drugs and whores.”

“Money?”sneered Smokie Joe from the other side.”Peanuts! If you stick with that, you’ll be a set-up for somebody else like Tullio who knows what can be done by a guy who’s willing to. And if you welsh on us now, Big Tom, you won’t have our help the next time it happens. What’ll it be?”

Mullens tongued both corners of his lips, looking from Mahoney to the expectant violence of the two torpedoes.”I gave my word,” he said at last.”I’ll back anything you need to set up.”

Their smiles dreadful reflections of one another, Nick and Angelo stepped to either side of the whimpering bookkeeper. “Smart cookie,” said Smokie Joe. Nick’s fist smashed Lod beneath the breastbone. As Mahoney doubled over, Angelo punched him in the back with enough power to pop a rib audibly. The plump man writhed on the floor like a crushed dog.

“He ain’t dead,” Nick said.”He ain’t even unconscious. But his spleen’s busted and he’ll bleed out in ten, twenty minutes.”

Danny Mullens turned his face to the wall and vomited.

“Get rid of the meat, boys,” Smokie Joe ordered. “Never trust somebody who gets religion,” he added earnestly to Big Tom as Nick and Angelo carried Mahoney out the door.”They’re worse than the ones who’ve been goody-goody all the time. They think they’ve got something to make up for, and they don’t mind putting your ass in the hot seat if they decide it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.”

The forelegs of Joe’s chair thumped the floor as he stood. He tapped Big Tom playfully on the shoulder. “Come on, give us a smile. We’re going places.” Big Tom shook himself, a great bull of a man tearing loose the jaws of an emotion that troubled him. He forced a bloodless smile. “Yeah, up.” “In a manner of speaking,” said Smokie Joe.

“I can’t believe this,” said Big Tom Mullens, shoving the account book across the scarred table.

“You think I’m cheating you?”asked Smokie Joe without rancor.”I’m not. And Nick and Angelo will keep their part of the bargain.”

“It’s not that I think you’re dragging me down,” Mullens admitted, frowning perplexedly at the slim figure. Smokie Joe had proven as perfect an accountant as he had been an operations man before Lod’s—death. “It’s—well, Hell, Joe; I don’t see how Nick could bring in this much, starting from scratch with no street organization. And Angelo running a cat-house in a college town—Christ, he could sell ice to Eskimos.”

Joe laughed in a satisfied way, a father preparing to explain to his son how he has gotten the stalled lawnmower to work.”There’s no secret about Nick,” he said. “Sure, people push skag for money; but the best pushers are the ones who’ve just been turned on to it themselves. They’re riding the crest, they’re happy, and they want all their friends to be up there with them. God’s a white powder to them, and they’ve got just as much enthusiasm as Paul the Apostle did.”

Smokie Joe’s laughter as he stood was suddenly a terrible thing. He faced the window for a rippling but unshaded view through the Lexan panels.”And these kids, they’re so smart. They ‘know’ they can’t get hooked if they only snort the stuff, it doesn’t put enough in their bloodstream. Only they don’t know that what we sell is 97% pure heroin—not until it’s too late for them to care.”

Big Tom pressed his temples. The wealth that had trickled, then poured in over the past months had not improved his appearance. His suits were tailored silk, but his belly had begun to slop over his belt and sweat quickly marked whatever he wore. Perhaps his hair had not really thinned and it was only the heightened ruddiness of his face that made it seem so. “What about Angelo, then?” he asked.

Smokie Joe turned. “You sell a customer what no one will give him,” he said quietly.”I think a tour will do better than any words I could use to explain. Come on, let’s take a ride down to Third Street.”

“At three in the afternoon?”

Joe cocked a thin line of eyebrow.”At ten in the morning, Big Tom. Even bankers have started staying open the hours customers want—and we’re selling what they can’t get free, remember?”

The drive was short and without further discussion. Big Tom’s headquarters were in the old industrial section, near the railroad station and the car shops. Angelo had set up in a huge frame house, a Victorian leftover on the outskirts of the business district. The previous owner had once refused to sell, Mullens remembered, preferring to hold the property against future rezoning to commercial or apartment use. Until now, Big Tom had not wondered why the old fellow had decided to sell to Angelo.

Smokie Joe swung the car through the alley entrance to the fenced courtyard behind the house. There were already three cars within: a Buick, a Chrysler, and a rusted gray Nash. “The staff doesn’t park here,” Joe said. “Of course the girls don’t leave at all.”

The door opened before either of the visitors rang. Angelo gave Smokie Joe a brief nod that could have been either recognition or obeisance.”Good you could come, Mr. Mullens,” he said.”I think you’ll be impressed by our operation—your operation, that is.”

Within, the house appeared to have been little modified from its original design. Down the rear stairs came a pair of laughing men, a huge black with boots, a loincloth, and a whip; and a middle-aged white man who used the brim of his hat to shield his face when he saw Big Tom. Mullens had already recognized Judge Firbairn.

Firbairn scurried out the door. The black nodded to Angelo, eyed Joe and Mullens with mild interest before he swaggered down the front hall and into a room to the side. Something had dripped from his quirt onto Big Tom’s wrist. It seemed to be blood.

“That’s Prince Rupert,” Angelo volunteered. “Some of our customers prefer watching to doing. Rupert does real nice for them. And we use him for other things too, of course.”

“Why does he pad his crotch that way?” Big Tom asked, disgusted but unwilling to admit it.

“It’s not padded,” Smokie Joe cut in, heading his employer down the high-ceilinged hall. “He has lymphogranuloma, and the scarring in his case has led to elephantiasis.”

“Jesus God!” Mullens grunted. “I don’t know how you could pay a woman enough for that.”

“We couldn’t,” agreed Angelo with a smile. He unlocked the first doorway to the left. “Not money, at least. All the girls are strung out. So long as they get their four jolts a day, they don’t care—they don’t even know—who does what to them.”

He threw open the door. Big Tom gagged as he took in the bed, the extensive props, and the mewling woman who lay in the midst of them. He pulled the door closed himself. “She’s only eighteen!” he said.

Angelo spread his palms. “They age quicker than you’d think,” he replied. “Then we got to sell them south or to Asia.”

“They come to us, Big Tom,” said Smokie Joe. His eyes were as intense as diamond needles. “Remember that. Everyone of the masks, uses the words, for everything that’s done to her. If they change their minds later, that’s too bad.”

Mullens shook nausea from his mind.”How in Hell are you running this? No fix on earth would cover up a deal like—” He waved his hands to save words he did not want to speak.

“Think Judge Firbairn would sign a search warrant for this place?” Smokie Joe gibed.

“There’s other judges in the district. They haven’t all been here.”

“You’d be surprised,” said Angelo. “And even some who don’t. . . .”

His voice trailed off but Smokie Joe had already opened the door of a converted broom closet and unlocked a drawer of the filing cabinet within. “Suppose you were about to launch a push against—well, you’d call them ‘the forces of crime and decay’ when you held your press conferences, I suppose. Then your daughter got drunk enough to take a dare from some girlfriends—girls she’d grown up with, though maybe if you’d paid more attention you wouldn’t have cared for some of the company they’d been keeping recently. Took a dare and got in a little deeper than she expected.

“So the next morning,” Smokie Joe continued, snaking out a packet of photographs, “a messenger brings you a roll of Super-8 movie film. What do you do then, Mayor Lawrence?”

Big Tom Mullens riffed through the photographs. “Jesus Christ, you did get Betty Jane Lawrence! Jesus Christ! She goes to school with my son, he’s dated her!”

“Still think Prince Rupert wears padding?” Angelo asked.

“That’s—God, I want to puke,” Big Tom groaned, handing the stills back to his smiling lieutenant. “His cock, it looks like it’s rotting.”

“Well, LGV is an incurable disease, you know,” Smokie Joe agreed. “Not so very bad for a while, if you have the personality Prince Rupert does. And if you have an employer who gives you some fringe benefits.

“Want to see more?”he asked, waving at the scores of file folders. When Big Tom shook his head sickly, Joe slammed the drawer and continued, “Between payoffs and this kind of pressure, Angelo here isn’t in any danger. Nick’s operation is a little different, though, since the heat on him is mostly state and we don’t have the same kind of locks on that.”

“What’s the matter?” Big Tom asked, turning toward the outside door as if it were the gate of his prison. “Couldn’t you get a picture of the whole Drug Enforcement Division having a circle jerk?”

“Oh, anything is possible,” Smokie Joe said agreeably, following the big racketeer down the hall. “We’ll have better luck if we give the state boys something to go after besides us, though. Shall Nick arrange a little diversion for them, Big Tom?”

“Arrange whatever you want,” Mullens said. “I’m not sure I give a goddamn about anything. Except that I don’t want to see you any more today, and I don’t want to see Angelo ever.”

He slammed the door behind him, within inches of Smokie Joe’s smile. From the front of the house came a scream, then another and another in rhythmic pulses. The smile grew broader.

Big Tom Mullens slapped folded newspaper down in front of Smokie Joe who waited for him with a stack of account books. “I’m getting goddam sick and tired of people playing goddam games with me,” he snarled. “I get a call from Shiloh Academy saying Danny hasn’t showed up for classes in a month and a half. I get here and Nick hands me this paper, asking how I like the job he did for me. What job?”

Joe calmly unfolded the paper.”It’s not unusual for boys your son’s age to drop out of school, you know,” he said.

“I’m not spending eight fucking grand a year for that kid to drop out!”Big Tom said.”He’s getting chances I never had to really make it by going straight, mixing with all the kids whose folks had money without having to scramble for it. If Danny thinks he’s going to throw that away, I’ll blow his fucking head off!”

“The money doesn’t matter. Big Tom,” said Smokie Joe. “You’ve got more money now than you could have dreamed of a year ago.” He smoothed the front page and rotated it back to Mullens. “Nick probably means the headline,” he said.

Big Tom mimed the words with his lips, then read aloud, “ ‘LSD Poisons Bloomington Reservoir; Hippie Terror-Plot Slays Scores; City Paralyzed.’ What the Hell?”

“It’s the diversion you told us to make,” Smokie Joe explained with a smile. “Acid goes through the treatment plant without being filtered out. We backed it up with a letter to the Daily News saying that unless marijuana was legalized and the army was disbanded in three days, we’d do the same to every other city in the country. So now the drug boys—and just about everybody else—are not only in Bloomington and out of our hair, they’ve just about dropped hard drugs statewide to hassle hippies about pot. Slick, isn’t it?”

Big Tom’s mouth was open but no sounds were coming from it. His palms were flat on the table to support his weight, but his forearms were trembling.

The door opened. Big Tom spun around.”Danny!” he cried. Then, “Hey, what in Hell happened to you?”

The boy wore a greasy sport coat and a pair of coordinated slacks from which most of the right cuff had been torn. While his father had gone to flesh in the past year, Danny was now almost as cadaverous as Angelo. He looked down at himself in mild surprise. “Hadn’t paid much attention to how I look,” he said. “Not since I went to the doctor.” His hand clenched a sheet of slick paper which he thrust at his father. “Does this mean anything to you?” he demanded.

Big Tom scowled at the sheet, a page torn from a medical text. “I can’t even read this crap,” he said. “No, it don’t mean anything.”

“Then maybe this does.”The tone would have snapped Big Tom’s head around even if the movement of Danny’s hand from beneath his coat had not. Smokie Joe was watching the boy with an expression of bored resignation, that remained unchanged at the sight of a .45 automatic wavering in the thin fist.

“The men have business to take care of, boy,” Smokie Joe drawled. His fingers drummed absently among the account books. “Why don’t you take your little play toy out and close the door behind you?”

“You bastard,” the boy said, swinging the pistol full on the slim, seated figure.

“You’re the real cause, aren’t you? I ought to use this on you.”

“Sure, kid,” Smokie Joe agreed, tilting his chair back a little, “but you don’t have the guts. You probably don’t even have the guts to use it on yourself.”

“Don’t I?” Danny asked. He looked at the baffled rage in his father’s eyes, then back to Smokie Joe’s cold scorn. The pistol seemed to socket itself in his right ear of its own volition.

“Wait, Danny!” Big Tom cried. He threw his hands out as the gun blasted. The windows shuddered. Danny’s eyeballs bulged and the ruin of his head squished sideways with the shot before his body slumped to the floor.

Big Tom more stumbled than knelt beside his son. Smokie Joe scooped up the torn page from where it had fallen. “Sure,” he said, “he probably tried curing it himself with what his roommate had leftover from a dose of clap last year. When the doctor told him what he had and what his chances were of getting rid of it now, Danny wouldn’t want to believe him—who would?—and picked up a book to check it out. ‘Lymphogranuloma venereum is a disease of viral origin, usually transmitted by sexual intercourse.’ Well, the only important thing about LGV is that it’s like freckles—it won’t kill you, but you’ll carry it till you die.”

Mullens was squeezing his son’s flaccid hands. “Normally just blacks get it,” Smokie Joe went on. He squatted beside the wax-faced racketeer. “That isn’t . . . shall we say, a law of God? Give her a chance and a white girl can catch it. And given a chance, she can pass it on to . . . .” Joe’s hand reached past Mullens to unhook Danny’s belt.”Funny thing—you wouldn’t have expected Betty Jane to have been interested in a man for a long time after Prince Rupert was done with her. Maybe she was too stoned to care, or maybe Danny-boy used a pretty—direct—approach. There’s no real harm done by screwing a girl, is there?” He jerked down Danny’s slacks.

The boy wore no underpants. His penis was distorted by three knotted sores slimed with yellow pus.

Big Tom choked and staggered upright. His right hand had wrapped itself around the butt of the automatic. Smokie Joe raised an eyebrow at it. “That’s a mistake, Big Tom. Don’t you hear that siren? When the police arrive, they’re going to think you shot your own son. Better let me take care of it—just tell me to and I’ll fix it so you won’t be bothered. You don’t care how I take care of it, do you?” He stretched out his hand toward the pistol.

“I’ll see you in Hell first!” Big Tom grated.

“Sure, Big Tom,” said Smokie Joe. “If that’s how you want it.”

Big Tom crashed out the six shots still in the pistol’s magazine. Amid the muzzle blasts rolled the peals of Smokie Joe’s Satanic laughter.

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