How to Stihl Rubies

By Dr. Richard A. Olson

Jewel heists are no fun, but the culprit was a jewel herself

Pepper, my secretary, and I were having our usual morning coffee. My office was on the seventh floor. I had the window open in spite of the cool autumn temperature. Leaves were scurrying and rustling across the streets. I was lost in thought, admiring the Illinois River, watching a barge roll by with seagulls chasing it.

Pepper said, “Hey, Boss, this envelope has your old address on it. The third floor of Fulton and Adams streets, Peoria, Illinois.”

I dropped the envelope down at my desk to analyze the mail. The mailman had just arrived at our office and left. I heard a sound at the door. Maybe the mailman had forgotten something. I ran my fingers through my thick raven-black hair, then squinted my steel-blue eyes at the door. It looked like a regular oak office door. Just a plain door, it hadn’t harmed anybody or done anything wrong. Then I thought of the joke, “When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.”

BAAAM!

The door burst ajar, one of its hinges broke apart. Wood splinters flew wildly, they landed and danced on the floor. Rudely, two uninvited men lunged into my office. One was dark, one was white — the important thing is they both had gats in their paws. These menacing snub-nose revolvers were pointed, aimed and ready to do business. Well, trouble is my business.

“Do you men have an appointment?” asked Pepper in a sweet, purring voice.

That made them slow down … a bit. They stormed over to my desk. The desk stopped their progress. It was a nice desk. 

The white man barked, “Stihl! We got business with you. Hands up tough guy. Now!”

I slowly got to my feet, stretched my 5’10’ frame, still holding my coffee. “Okay I’m up.”

Pepper has wandered over with the coffee pot simmering. She was on my left, hoovering. “Boss, would you like a refill?”

“We was told to tell you lay off the Grady case…or you will end up pushing daisies.”

“Or maybe a cement overcoat,” said the dark guy. “You look like catfish food.”

Well, I did not like daisies or the idea of being catfish food. “There is only one problem.”

“What’s that?” growled the white guy?”

I stated, “There are only two of you, there are two of us.”

 The dark guy said, “But we got the guns. You think you big and strong; that’s just the type I like to beat on.”

The other added, “Your secretary is a small negress. Hardly a snack.”

The two snickered merrily at the thought of our demise.

Their laughing was just the distraction I wanted. Giving Pepper the slightest nod, Pepper tossed out the coffee. I also dropped my cup for a diversion. Pepper’s caffeine toss perfectly hit the white guy’s hand, with a howl of pain the revolver dropped. 

The dark guy’s eyes inadvertently followed my porcelain cup-of-joe to the floor where is shattered, its dark fluids spewing outward, and my right fist of “steel” launched forward in a wicked roundhouse to his jaw. It produced a sound much like a slab of beef breaking a bone. My left hook to his stomach was just as swift and deadly. There was the sound of air, rushing, escaping his mouth. He stood there like a deflated balloon. But he still reached at my throat making a step forward. I too stepped forward with an uppercut coming from my feet to my hips to my arms to my fist. His body visibly lifted upward. He flew backwards landing on his back. Inwardly I groaned at the sound of his skull cracking against the tile floor. 

WHACK!

My teeth chattered at the hit I received from the white guy’s blow. Dazed but not confused, I ducked the next blow and rolled to the floor. Then I sprang to my feet. The cheap shot made me mad. It’s not good to get me mad. He bull-rushed me. His mistake. Being an x-professional boxer, I slid to the right and jabbed twice at his temple. His head snapped back, as he spun around a wild punch thrown at where I stood. His second blow was timed, it careered off the side of my jaw. Now I saw stars, not the kind you want. In a fighting rage I rushed in, clenched him, giving me time to regain my senses.

A referee would of broken us apart if one had been there. He kicked my shin—hard Which made me madder. I blocked the blow, leaped back. He came at me swinging. I parried and gave him the old one-two. That slowed him down…considerably. Now I charged in, right cross, left uppercut. He attempted to block me. That set him up for a haymaker.

KA-BLAM.

His eyes got big. They seemed to spin around, then his eyelids closed. He sunk to the ground; out like a light.

“Pepper, call Detective Colby. It’s time to take out the trash.”

Pepper nodded with a smile, “Yes Sur, Boss.”

 In the cool Autumn air, the mist permeated the streets. An innocuous couple enter the jewelry store. The owner of Stanton Jewelry was working the counter today. His employee was too hung over to work. 

In a gruff voice, “How may I help you? My name is Clifford Stanton. You may call me Cliff.”

“Ello, mate. How’s it blooming going?” He was a tall slender man in a tweed suit, grey derby hat, and cane.

“Eh, okay sir. What can I do for you?”

“My sister, and I would like to look at some Rubes. Right, sis?”

In a melodic voice, “That’s bloody right, Simon. Rubes, ya got some?”

Cliff had a blank face, with a question on his lips. “Rubes?”

“Okay, in Queens English…Rubies. Right, Vivian?”

“Show us your best and biggest, sir. I got a hole in me purse. Know what I mean?”

“Yes sir, of course.” Cliff jumped to attention. He was back in a flash. He opened a case and stated unrolling the black velvet. Six rubies shined, flashed, they sparkled into existence. 

“That’s more to my liking,” stated Vivian. “May I…?”

Cliff nodded. She picked one up and ogled it then handed it to Simon. Simon took out a jeweler’s eye loupe, he rotated the jewel like it was on a rotisserie. A low whistle escaped his lips.

“Blimey mate, very nice. How much for the bunch?”

Cliff, gulped. “I…I could let the set go for only $10,000. And that’s a deal. Not much mark-up since the Depression.”

“Well, well, that’s a pretty penny,” commented Vivian. “What do you say brother?”

“Nothing good is cheap,” replied Simon. “Do you take pound sterling?”

“Er, checks or American dollars please,” countered Cliff.

Simon’s response was, “We have to visit one of your Yankee banks and make convertibility. We could be back after lunch. Fish and chips sound good, Vivian?”

“Jolly good, Simon.” Vivian’s nostrils flared. “Ah, ah, ah—choo!” Frantically Vivian opened her handbag. Another sneeze exploded. “Achoo!” The handbag dropped to its side, the contents exploding across the counter.

Cliff bent over to help Vivian gather up the contents. Simon made a gesture of helping. The mess was gathered up. Vivian was graciously wiping her pert nose. Simon stood there casually stuffing tobacco into his pipe. Cliff rolled up the black velvet collecting the rubies. 

“Sorry about that mate. Must be that fall ragweed that you have here in Peoria. Come, Vivian, time for a stroll and a bite.”

“Thank you, sir, for your kindness and time.” Vivian placed her hand on Cliff’s hand. She paused, leaned forward, then batted her sky-blue eyes. “We shall return. Ta-ta for now.”

“Um, thanks,” said an uncomfortable married Cliff. “I shall keep your rubies safe.”

They exited the store door and turned left down the hall.

“Excuse me!” yelled a bewildered Cliff. “The street is to the right!”

“Want another drink, Nick? Beer or Scotch?” asked Sam.

“The night is young,” I replied. “Let’s stick to beer for now.”

 Sam Wilson was my best friend, one the few honest lawyers in Sin city. One of Peoria’s many nicknames. Sam was medium height, weight, and brown hair. He took off his horn-rimmed glasses and wiped them. Don’t let those brown eyes fool you, he missed nothing. There was the wisdom of Solomon hiding behind them. The waitress showed up, a pert small-breasted blonde. We were at West’s Palace, the premier Burlesque club in town. 

Sam ordered, “Okay beer it is. Two PBR’s, Miss.”

There was a Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery in Peoria. Nothing like beer brewed yesterday.

“Say, Nick, I finally have a joke for you.”

“What’s that?” I’m usually the funny guy around here. I picked up a Lucky Strike. Sam started loading his pipe with tobacco from a Prince Albert can.

“Did you hear about the two lawyers walking down Main Street and they saw a gorgeous blonde?”

I nodded, “No.”

“One lawyer says to the other, ‘I want to screw her.’ The other lawyer says, ‘Out of what?’”

I spit out some of my beer. “Good one, Sam.”

 We searched around for matches; our pockets and the table were empty. Just our luck, neither of us had matches.

I volunteered, “I’ll go to the bar; back in a jiffy, Sam.” I skedaddled. The bar was modern art deco. It was blond-maple veneer with contrasting black-lacquer trim. It was full of drinks, ashtrays, ashes, spills, and minor stains. And of course, customers. I weaseled my way to the counter. 

“Pardon me,” I purposely bumped by a lady sitting there. I wanted my Lucky Strikes. In a loud voice, “Hey, Henry! A couple of matchbooks, please.”

“Don’t have to be so loud and pushy, mate.”

The voice stopped me dead in my tracks. It was bold, melodic, sexy, and very British. Glancing to my right I saw the most adorable bird. She had dark hair under her angled beret hat, deep sky-blue eyes, and a luscious lower lip that begged to be kissed. I definitely know how to kiss. Her low-cut silver satin dress looked like it was painted on her. The painter did not miss a stroke. Inwardly I thought, “Pucker up, babe.” What came out of my mouth was, “Can I buy you a drink to make up for being a jerk?”

The lady calmly put her cigarette in an ashtray. The last few puffs of smoke were dying out. “My gin and tonic is bloody well dry.” She lifted the glass overhead, tipped it upside down and leaned back. The last precious few drops landed on her moist glistening tongue. The tongue curled back into her mouth, followed by her lower lip closing. My toes curled watching her. 

I recovered straightening out my toes. “Henry, where are my matches? Two gin and tonics pronto for the lady.” My stomach revolted at the idea of drinking Gin. It tasted like an evergreen tree. Eeech! Man, she was that good-looking, good enough to drink Gin with. I bet she could make my ears sweat. Time would tell.

“I’m Stihl, Nick Stihl. You are…?”

“Vivian,” she extended her dainty hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

I pressed my lips to her hand; it smelled like violets. “Enchante.”

“Se Bon, se bon, monsieur Nickolas.”

A pang rang in my heart. She sounded like my ex-fiancée Jennifer from my boxing days. I kept beaming till the gin showed up. We nodded our glasses at each other and toasted, “Cheers.”

 I drank down my evergreen tree, or was it Pine-Sol. Inside I went “yuck,” with that taste in my mouth. “You must be new in town, or I would have noticed you before.” Not the best opening line.

“You’re jolly right. My brother and I just skipped across the pond.”

“What pond? You mean the river?”

“The pond is the Atlantic Ocean darling. Do you even know what a Quid is?”

I sadly shook my head no.

“It’s term for our money. A pound is a quid.”

Apparently I had a lot to learn. The first thing to learn was Vivian’s address and phone number, if she had a phone. Vivian took my hands; she eyed them like they were a side of beef.

“My, my what have we here? Are you a pugilist?”

That word I knew. “Ex-boxer. Now I’m a shamus.”

“These look like hands of steel. Such scars, and calluses. You have been in many battles, mate.” 

“A few, here or there,” I replied trying to remain humble. 

Then Vivian leaned against me, her moist breath in my ear. Were my toes going to curl again? Now I really wanted to kiss her. She traced my ear with her finger, dotted my ear with a light kiss, then rubbed my suitcoat feeling my hard muscles. She felt where my .38 Smith & Wesson was stored. “My, you are interesting. How’s your other gun darling? Do you dribble before you shoot?”

Just then Sam came storming over. “Where’s the matches? I need to smoke my pipe. What’s been keeping you?” When he noticed Vivian, his voice lightened up. “Oh… I see. Very nice. I’m Sam Wilson, Nick’s supposed friend.”

Meanwhile in the snakes den — To be more exact, Paul West’s private office…

“Well, what do you think?” asked Simon.

“I must admit it’s a pretty sight,” admitted Paul. He was holding a glistening ruby under the desk lamp. Paul was always dapper, dressed in a blue wool suit and dark-blue tie. He ran his finger along his pencil thin moustache. He had started West Palace from scratch and was now the king of the Burlesque. Peoria was the Burlesque capital of the world. There’s a famous saying. “If it plays in Peoria, it plays anywhere”. 

“Let me see them,” demanded Liam Walsh in a snarling voice.

 He was the most feared man in Peoria, leader of the mighty Walsh gang. Liam and his three brothers ran this town of sin and corruption. Police officers would step into the street to let the Walsh’s walk by. Simon handed two rubies to Liam. Liam greedily grasp them, his cruel lips twisting, put one in each hand. He stood up went over and held them under the Paul’s desk lamp. 

“Nice, very nice. I’ll take all six rubies. Why break up the set? We’ll keep this a secret from the Mayor Logan. Why give him a cut? I’ll offer you three thousand dollars for the lot. Not a penny more.”

Beneath Liam’s dark moustache an an evil grin showed. His white teeth menacingly shined.

“But…that’s not enough mate. My sis and I planned this nick a long time. We got expenses — overhead, you might say. We might have to blow this town fast. The bloody coppers and such.”

Paul and Liam laughed. They owned the police and everything else in this town.

Paul said one word: “Jesse.” A small mountain of a man came to life from the corner. He walked over and stood behind Simon. He placed a bearpaw of a hand on Simon’s shoulder. Simon froze in terror. Jesse was not small, about 6’6” by 6’6”.

Simon still said, “Make it four grand. We did a bloody good job; you know it Mister Walsh. We don’t want a sticky wicket twixt us, future business, and such.” 

Liam’s eyes widened in surprise. “You Limeys have balls that’s for sure. We’ll see about that. Jesse take—”

Paul butted in, a hazardous thing to do with Liam. “Liam, Jesse is mine. Jesse, show us.”

Jesse wrapped his arms around Simon, who was petrified, like a living statue. Jesse lifted Simon like a rag doll, carried him over and deposited him in a chair. Simon was as white as a ghost. 

“Liam, give him the four thousand clams. I like future business, dividends you might say.” Paul’s voice was smooth as ice.

Liam was silent. A long minute dragged out; tension cut the air. Liam’s lips snarled, “Okay, four it is. Let’s plan the drop. I know a couple of nice warehouses. Rubies now, the dough later.”

Simon stood up slowly, knowing he was on thin ice. “I’ll take my three bleedin’ rubies back please. We’ll do the exchange all at once. Four thousand dollars for the six stones. Send word tomorrow to the Julian Hotel front desk. The name is Relish, Simon Relish.” Simon’s hands finally betrayed him, they trembled. He nearly dropped a ruby as he placed the stones in a pouch.

“Cheerio mates, tomorrow it is.” Simon left a silent office behind him.

Simon saw Vivian at the bar counter, his eyes widened at the sight of me. He boldly ambled over. “Good evening blokes. I’m Simon, nice to see you keep my sister safe and occupied. There’s apparently a lot of rift raft in this town. Time to go dear. Almost tea time.”

Vivian looked at me with those blue eyes that could melt an iceberg.

As politely as I could, “Vivian, may I have your address or phone number?” 

She pressed her finger against her moist lips and then pressed her finger to my lips. “I’ll find you… Darling. Ta-ta for now.”

Simon and Vivian left. I instinctively licked my lips. They tasted like that confounded gin. Eeech!

I got my matches; Sam and I took our table. Sam lit up his pipe. I finally got my Lucky Strike and lit it. The first magical puff was mine. LSMFT (Lucky Strike means fine tobacco). Two scotches later, I was definitely feeling better. 

“Whoa, slow down Mr. Stanton. Let’s take it from the top. One more time, you might have left out something.” Colby was trying to cool off Cliff. 

 Detective Dave Colby one of the few honest cops in this town. His sandy hair was rumpled, his tie disarrayed, face unshaven. He got here in a jiffy. Stanton had clout. He had the best jewelry store in the Peoria area. 

Colby scribbled in a notebook. “When did you discover the rubies had been switched?” 

“I was holding them for the English people, starting to wrap them up. One of the rubies fell off the counter, it hit the ground and shattered. It was glass! I was robbed. It’s terrible. Oh, what a fool I am. They seemed so nice.”

“You can’t judge a book by the cover,” I said, jaunting into the store. I carried two cups of joe, and promptly handed one to Dave. He muttered thanks and attacked it. 

Colby kept drilling. “Did they say where they stayed or what bank they used? Any ideas, at all?”

“Not really, just they would get the money from a bank.” Cliff buried his face in his hands.

“What were the six rubies worth?”

“At least $10,000 dollars, maybe a little more.”

I piped up, “Where did they go after they left? See anything unusual?”

Cliff lifted his face up. “Yeah I did; they went the wrong way.”

“The wrong way?” echoed Colby. “How do you go the wrong way?”

Cliff wrinkled his brow remembering, “They went out the door and turned left, but the street is to the right.” 

Dave and I both looked at each other. “The roof!”

We dashed out the door and raced up the stairs, two or three steps at a time. We were breathless by the seventh floor. We spilled out the roof door to … nothing. Of course, the robbers were long gone by then. We caught our breaths and scoped out the rooftop for clues. I lit up a Lucky Strike and pretended to be Sherlock Holmes. If only I had a magnifying glass … The roof looked dirty, grimy, like a mini junkyard. Cliff Stanton would have to talk to his cleaning crew. There were candy wrappers, rusting beer cans, glass Coke bottles and a cage of pigeons in the corner.

“Nick, come here.”

I puffed my way over to Colby. “What did you find?” I wasn’t seeing much.

He bent over, stood up and produced two half smoked cigarettes. “Two Fags, one has lipstick on it.”

“What’s a fag?” I wasn’t feeling too smart lately.

“It’s a Schaeffler cigarette. They call them Fags in England. That’s slang. Seen any new English people in town lately Nick?”

Deep down, I felt sick to my stomach, and it wasn’t the Gin. “There’s always new people in town with Caterpillar. In fact, my friend Mike is Scottish.” 

“It’s the only clue we got. We need to find who smokes this type of cigarette.”

We went down the stairs much slower, making small talk and hit the streets of Sin City.

I entered my office, shaking off my umbrella. It was combination of rain, sleet, and ice outside.

“Good morning, Pepper. Nasty weather outside.” 

Pepper was busy, her brown hands pounding away on her Underwood typewriter. She looked as cute as a bug in a rug. Her thick dark brown hair was braided, her long eyelashes fluttering as she typed. She had on a purple wool dress, lavender scarf, pearl earrings, and a pearl bracelet. She was singing the Glenn Miller song, “Over The Rainbow.”

“Good morning, Boss. Yes, it’s nasty outside. It’s like the weather can’t make up its mind on what to do. How’s a girl supposed to dress for weather like this?”

“Yeah, my father told me if you don’t like the weather in Illinois…wait fifteen minutes. It will change. Any mail, news, gossip, or killings I need to know about?”

Pepper loaded up my desk with a pile of bills, steaming cup of coffee and a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes. Sometimes I could kiss that girl. 

Two cups of Joe and two Lucky’s latter, quite a few envelopes filled my garbage can. I kicked my feet up on my desk. Outside the window, the weather was turning back to rain.

“Pepper, I got a busy day planned for you. Take notes.”

With pencil and paper in hand, she asked, “What’s the plan Boss?”

“We need to track down a pretty English lady and gentleman. Here’s what we’re going to do…”

Pepper began scribbling.

We were sitting in Sam’s law office in the Lehman building. Three coffees were poured by his knockout of a secretary. She left but flashed me a big smile and a wink. I returned the wink. Sam elbowed me.

 I asked, “What do you think, Dave?”

“It could work,” I supposed. Things always sound good on paper. “But in real life…?”

“The most important thing is the timing.” Sam pointed out. The phone rang. It was Sam’s direct line.

“Mr. Wilson? This is Pepper Boyd. I did what Nick told me to. That odd English couple is leaving the Julian Hotel. I overheard that they are going to meet at the Apollo Theatre tonight. I think they are going to meet with Li…”

The hum of the dial tone could be heard throughout the office. My heart was in my throat. A snarl exploded out of my mouth. “I will kill the bastards that harm a hair on Pepper’s head.”

I realized I said that out loud. You could hear a pin drop in that room. Sam clenched my arm, he was stronger than I thought. But Dave spoke first.

“I’ll get my two best untainted men. Let’s go get those sons of bitches.”

Sam snapped, “I want in on it.” 

He went to his desk and much to my surprised he pulled out a nickel plated .35 revolver. He stood at his desk. Even for a lawyer, the glare on his face looked menacing. I patted my .38 Smith & Wesson; it felt comfortable. Then I jumped to my feet, all my 190 pounds ready to rumble.

My voice rumbled also. “Let’s round up the usual suspects!” It came out so deep and powerful I surprised myself. I am a ‘Man of Steele.’

The theatre was about half-packed, being a weeknight. Sam, Dave, and his men dispersed themselves among the crowd. I slowly cased the place. I bought a soda and popcorn at the counter. The popcorn was fresh, hot, and smelled great. Obviously they had cooked it in coconut oil. I plopped myself in the backrow. Munching my popcorn, I reached inside my suitcoat, pulled out my flask and poured a liberal amount of whiskey into my soda. Might as well have a good time waiting. They had a Thin Man movie playing and Myrna Loy was sure looking good tonight. 

Pouring more whiskey from my flask into my second soda, I noticed Vivian and her brother Simon walk down the aisle to take a seat. I slumped down, hiding my face behind my soda, slurping it. Sam turned to me, gave a nod. Next was Dave, he raised his shoulders questionably? Tossing my head of thick black hair in the direction of the Relishes, I kept on slurping. Dave nodded yes. The whiskey was starting to kick in by now. The movie was a riot. The dog Asta was licking a hungover Bill Powell’s face. Not daring to leave my seat for a soda refill, I splashed more whiskey into my soda’s remains. My throat burned in delight from the whiskey. I was ready to get this party started. It didn’t take long.

 A man sauntered down the aisle and sat next to Simon. Their heads leaned together conferring. They both got up, strolled back up the isle and went through the Exit door. Now it was my turn. I nonchalantly walked down and took a seat next to the lovely Vivian. Tonight, she had on a two-piece dark grey outfit, with a peach-colored scarf. A pheasant feather was precariously perched in her dark Garbo slouch hat.

“Popcorn?”

Vivian face blanched, she was speechless. The look on her face was priceless.

“Are you enjoying the movie? Powell and Loy are great together. One of Hollywood’s best teams if you ask me.”

“Nick? What… ello mate, are you doing here?”

“I came for my kiss.” I blew a breath of whiskey toward her luscious lower lip.

She was taken aback, then regained her composure. “You smell like a distillery. What if my brother sees us?”

Not the answer I expected. “Let’s take a walk and find your wonderful brother. Get up slowly and head up the aisle…slowly.” I tapped my .38 Smith & Wesson under suitcoat. “Remember, I’m interesting.”

Vivian nodded. “Yes, I remember. You’re interesting.”

“Lead the way, sister.”

She stood up, started walking in slow motion. I gave her a not too gentle push. She staggered and gave me a venomous look with those now cold hard blue eyes. Vivian surprised me. Instead of up the aisle, she went down toward the movie screen, where she paused. Pulling a curtain aside, revealed a door. She wavered there, uncertain what to do.

“The night’s not getting any earlier, knock or I knock you.” It wasn’t my nature to be rough on dames. This wasn’t a dame, she was a professional thief, maybe more. Her hand raised like molasses; her icy blue eyes shot daggers of hate at me. Vivian knocked three polite times…

Inside a voice grumbled, “Who’s there?”

I released a savage kick, bursting the door open, to quite a sight I might add. Centered in the room, behind an oak desk perched Liam Walsh. A pair of bookend goons loomed behind him. Simon was seated in front of the desk smoking one of his English Fags. In the corner of the room, was Pepper gagged and bound to a metal folding chair. She batted her eyelashes at me helplessly. A chill of icy water went down my spine. But inside my guts boiled, steam was going to rage out of my throat. I shoved, or was it propelled Vivian toward Simon. She crashed into his lap. Simon’s fag went flying, embers and ashes spraying the desk glowing and burning by a black velvet bag that was placed on the desk. Liam didn’t move a muscle, nor did his goons. Then a saturnine smirk crossed his face.

“Good evening, Nick. I see you came to join our little party. I suppose we have something you want. This negress here, she’s your secretary, right? How unusual. What’s her name…Polly, Penny, or something like that? You might say, she’s our insurance. Even I must admit, you are as tough as steel.”

 Liam drummed his thick fingers on the desk. “Tell you what, you can get a small cut if you leave here peacefully. You can get your Girl Friday later.” With a venomous declaration, Liam said, “We’ll keep her mostly safe…for now. Know what I mean?”

I knew what he meant. Well, I meant business too.

I bumped my knuckles together. That made the two mammoth goons stir. There was only two of them, no matter what size, not a problem for me. I eat nails and spit rust. I like to fight and don’t care if I get hurt, but I do care about Pepper. 

“I’m thinking about it Liam, just give me a minute.” I was stalling. “What kind of cut? And you let Pepper go, right?” 

Simon jumped to his feet spilling Vivian to the floor. Her Garbo hat fell off. She had a look of shock and disbelief on her face. In another time I would have laughed at her. This was not another time. 

“I’m not giving up one red cent of my wife’s or my cut. It has to be out of yours, not ours.” Simon gulped, realizing what he had said. 

Liam opened his mouth. “You fool…”

A shout came from the doorway. “Police. Peoria Police Department. Everybody freeze.”

It was Detective Dave Colby, with two of Peoria’s finest, brandishing their service revolvers. Inside I wondered if it could really be this easy. The two goons deposited their guns on the ash burnt desk. Liam swiped at the velvet bag, but I was quicker. I opened it, inside nicely nested were the six stolen rubies. 

Colby said, “Let me guess they were delivered by carrier pigeon?”

“That’s right.” I chimed in. “The pigeons then flew to the roof of the Julian Hotel. And the Relishes picked up the rubies and here we are now.” I smiled feeling smug and proud of myself.

Colby and his men handcuffed the four bad guys while I freed Pepper. She did her best not to cry. I did get a hell-of-a hug through. She was one tough lady. We marched out like a parade into the theater. The two ladies in front. Up the aisle we marched. I felt a tightness in my stomach. Something was going to happen.

It sure did, with a vengeance. About half a dozen men stood up in the audience, armed with handguns, a couple of shot guns thrown in for good measure. Now the evening was going to get interesting.

BOOOM! Went off the first shotgun. 

 One of the Policemen’s chest exploded; a mist of blood mixed with chunks of flesh and lung tissue sprayed outward. He flew backwards like he was shot by a cannon. Landing on the carpeted aisle, he bounced once and went still. Colby and I were drawing our revolvers and spraying lead. It was a hail of death. I shot at one of the gangsters as I pushed forward to grab the gals and get them to safety. My shot was swift and sure, a crimson hole appeared on the left side of his forehead. I hardly noticed it. I missed grabbing Vivian’s arm, but managed to yank on Pepper’s arm, pulling us into a headfirst tumble. 

By now the innocent bystanders were panicking, screaming, running amuck if you will. Popcorn was flying and soft drinks spilling everywhere. The chaos was rampant. My question was, who were the good guys or the bad guys? Liam’s two goons used their bodies as a shield to protect him. I could not help but admire their loyalty to him. Several of the gangsters rushed to Liam’s rescue. Liam was handcuffed still and helpless. Colby shot twice, one the gangster’s clutched at his gut, like he could keep his insides from spilling out. He crumbled withering on the floor, a terrible gargle coming out of his mouth.

A goon charged me, I leaped to my feet and met his charge with a viscous left cross to his jaw. His momentum adding to the force of my blow. The sound of his jaw fracturing was sickening. So was the sound of my knuckles breaking. His eyes rolled upward, then went blank. Before he hit the ground, I was firing at another target. 

Cha, cha, cha! Went my .38, another man bit the dust. Sensing a presence, I whirled. A shotgun was directed my way. As the shotgun exploded, the other policeman dived into the gangster driving them to the floor. They rolled and tossed about. The shotgun aim had been knocked askew. The buckshot found its home in the face and chest of Simon. Simon was torn asunder. I’m sure not even his mother would recognize him. Vivian stood up rushing to her husband, she received a wild shot in her back propelling her face first to the ground. She feebly managed to crawled over to her husband, as she expired, grasping his motionless hand. The ill-fated couple’s hands were locked in Death!

My eyes now had to be on Liam Walsh. One of his men was pushing him up the aisle the other two goons still blocking my aim. The rage inside me wanted me to kill. The hatred for Liam was boiling up inside of me. He had killed my boxing trainer and mentor Max. 

I couldn’t do it…shoot a defenseless handcuffed men. I growled as I watch Liam and his three goons flee from the theatre. I whirled needing a release, ready to gun down anybody I could. Colby had a man he was handcuffing. The policeman on the floor was also handcuffing his man.

Another gangster had his hands in the air, behind him was Sam. Sam had jammed his .35 revolver into nape of the gangster’s neck. Sam was not a mousy lawyer. He meant business in or out of the courtroom. There was no one left for me to shoot. Out of frustration, with my left hand I punched the back of a theater chair. My senses exploded. A moan partially escaped my lips. I had forgotten I had broken my left hand with the left cross into the gangsters’ jaw. Pepper rushed to my aid; she wrapped her hankie around my swollen bloodied left hand. We slowly went over to the two still prostrate bodies of the Relish’s. With my right hand I rolled over Vivian. Their hands pulled apart. Her blue eyes were glassy and blank, her luscious lower lip was split in several places and bloody. She would never kiss anybody again!

“Here they are.” I opened the black velvet bag and spilled out the six precious rubies on the counter. “All six accounted for.” Inside me I knew it was a hollow victory at best.

Cliff Stanton was beside himself, beaming with happiness. All he could say was “thanks,” over and over.

Dave Colby patted me on the back. “Great job on the recovery of the rubies. That was clever of the Relish’s using carrier pigeons. The reward is all yours Nick. What a hell of a gunfight. It’s amazing no civilians were harmed.”

“I’m not sure about keeping all the reward money, Liam got away. That bastard needs to pay.”

“His day will come, Nick. Eventually all evil comes to an end. He will reside in Hell someday. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.” Sam’s words rang in my head, with the laughter of The Shadow echoing in the background. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

“Keep the reward,” Dave reiterated. “I mean it, Nick.”

“Yeah, Boss, we got medical expenses.” Pepper held up my left hand, now in a cast. 

I pulled my plastered hand away and made a punching motion. “That chair should have ducked.”

Pepper giggled, then a chuckle from Sam. Dave burst out laughing, slapping his thigh. Cliff joined in, then I found myself laughing too. For a moment it was one big party in Peoria, the original Sin City.