Post series: Valentine's Night in the 70-Shot Club

Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 3) by Christian McCulloch

  1. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 1) by Christian McCulloch
  2. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 2) by Christian McCulloch
  3. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 3) by Christian McCulloch

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club

A Hangout for the Excessively Rich

Note: 1929. Members of Chicago’s North Side Gang were lined up against a wall and assassinated by unknown assailants, some dressed as police officers. Seventy shots in all were fired. Al Capone was suspected of having a significant role in the massacre, as were members of the Chicago Police Department. ‘Bugs’ Moran, Capon’s arch-enemy, either escaped or was absent.

Part Three

I grabbed the first thing I could focus upon and somehow pulled myself into a car seat – an uncomfortable car seat I noted; one that I remembered.

We must have been 100 yards away before I was able to pull myself into a sitting position. We were travelling down the back street behind the 70-Shot Club.

I glanced at my rescuer and driver. Two sets of headlights were coming up behind us fast.

We were quicker. The driver threw a look at me to assess his situation. He shouted something that made no sense. It sounded like, ‘…saw ’em go in …knew some’ink weren’t right…’ Then he told me I was lucky but I couldn’t understand what he meant. He was laughing. I needed to know why.

‘It’s what I’m good at! Car chases! The movies! My job! I do high-speed stunts – hang on!’

We barrelled through the back streets at treacherous speed. I was thrown, first against the passenger door and then against the Honda driver who pushed me roughly away and changed gear perfectly smoothly. I was impressed.

In my confusion, I remembered the first time I conquered my childhood fear. I remembered the capsule ride on the fairground. I faced my fear and thought I was becoming an adult. It was just before I threw up and would never be able to share my epiphany with anyone.

The driver swung the car a hard left, causing such a sudden shift of weight that the side of my face was smashed against the passenger window and held me there. My vomit hit the dashboard. I heard the driver groan with disgust. ‘Oh, Man! That’s gross!’

A thought, straight out of left-field struck me about the seven of us back in the Club being shot in the back by vintage weapons against a wall. ‘What’re you talking about?’ asked the driver. I said, ‘What?’

‘Just now! You said you somehow expected more… more what?’ I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought it must have had something to do with the vomit on the dashboard and pieces on my best shoes. Brain matter! Body parts! I wasn’t thinking straight. Surely bullets ripped up flesh? Neat holes seemed surgical. There was nothing surgical about puking. There was nothing surgical about having your head shot off! Maybe ‘surgical’ wasn’t the right word.


‘You OK, Grandpa? I think we lost them! Some neat driving, wouldn’t you say?’ I checked over my shoulder, then slumped back into my seat at an angle I could watch the driver. Perhaps, being a stunt driver for the movies did help him to keep his head. Perhaps it just taught him to drive fast.

He caught me staring at him. It seemed to unnerve him. ‘What?’ He was shuffling in his seat. He was turning over logs in his mind looking for something to say. As his agitation grew, my composure returned and the stuttering, fragmented words and ideas were untangling themselves. I felt I was on the edge of understanding something important.

‘Why are we stopping here?’ I asked. Somewhere when I wasn’t focused, the driver had pulled into some private estate or parkland. We were on a stretch of private road with benches along both side. It was a thoroughfare designed for golf carts or slow-moving processions of long black cars with tinted windows, chauffeurs and widow ladies in the back behind veils.

Perhaps it was inspiration or instinct on the driver’s part. There again, it could’ve been a set-up. That idea seemed like overkill after what had happened inside the 70-Shot Club.

‘The Black Dog Society?’ I said. ‘Does that mean anything to you?’

‘Listen, Grandpa. I was paid to pick you up and bring you here. I done what I been paid for. Like, I was told to drop you here. I’d appreciate it if you’d make like a shepherd… Get the flock outta my car. I gotta get my motor cleaned. Jeeze, Grandpa! Look what you done! None of this were part of the deal.

‘So, would you mind?’ He reached across me, opened the door and gestured a polite exit. I complied and the car was moving away before I was ready to close the door or thank him.

I was left standing on a patch of private land which, when my vision had adjusted and the full moon showed itself between the clouds was a cemetery. I could see a car in the distance and decided to make for it.

I couldn’t get my mind to concentrate on what had happened at the 70-Shot Club.


It was then that a sleek Bently pulled up. The chauffeur got out and opened the door for me. Finally! I was being treated like the man of means that I am. A pretty face appeared.

‘Good evening, Mr Hartley. May I give you a ride? My name is…’

‘Minnie?’ I said.  ‘You play a pivotal role in the company that I used to own. Regrettably, I have no idea what you do – other than driving around in the moonlight on the one romantic night of the year.’

‘Please, step inside. Make yourself comfortable.’

‘And where am I going? Are you going to take me home?’

‘Is that where you want to be?’ A  loaded question. I tried to sound flippant as if being in a gangland massacre was something I went looking for when I was bored and had finished tidying my sock-drawer. ‘Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. The night is young.’ I wanted to tell her that she smelled exciting and her voice… well, she had the kind of voice that would soothe a frightened child awakened from a nightmare. ‘What exactly do you do in the Company,’ I asked.

Your Company, Mr Hartley,’

‘Yeah, right!’ I wiped the dribble of cynIcism from my chin. I slumped back into the upholstery and tried to think of nothing. That seemed to be the limit of her courtesy and engaging conversation.

Ten minutes later we were outside The 70-Shot Club again. To my surprise, the club doorman was back on duty monitoring the long queue waiting to be admitted.

The chauffeur opened the door and I stepped out. Flashbulbs lit the eager faces turned to see who the celebrity could be. Minnie slipped her arm through mine and we stepped into the club. ‘Are you having a good time?’ someone called after me. Another loaded question. I thought about the puke on my shoes and wondered if there was any blood on my trousers. ‘Fine,’ I answered. Minnie looked up at me and smiled but said nothing.

Where were the police? The real police. What was I doing back in The 70-Shot Club?

The music was loud. The dancefloor now full. At the end of the bar were all the people I recognised from earlier. Dolls and Molls and Sugarbabes in their 1920-skimpies, delicate straps and bib-bobbed hair. Young girls in uniforms, a sharp contrast to the young men. Their shirts were ripped and blood-smeared.

Glasses chinked together. Excited voices raised in the celebration of the post-performance party. My presence was noticed and everyone stopped to give me a round of applause and raise their glasses.

Dusty detached himself from the group I remembered entering with the policemen. He placed a drink in my hand and stepped back to take a hard look at me. ‘I was worried you’d have a heart attack or something but Minnie said your doctor gave you a clean bill of health at your last check-up. Minnie, by the way, is your Head of Operations, in case you didn’t know.’

‘And what do you do in this little charade?’ I asked. I won’t disguise the sense of relief I felt. I had to admit I was full of confusion but I felt ten years – Hell – twenty years younger!

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Dusty, making a show of removing a piece of brain-matter from his sleeve. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I could check my thoughts before the words left my mouth.

‘It takes a moment or ten to adjust and collate two divergent realities. For some folk it takes days, some never make it. Minnie said it wouldn’t be a problem. It certainly looks as if she was correct. She usually is. She’s…’

‘Pivotal?’ I suggested and raised an eyebrow. Dusty laughed and placed an arm around me. ‘Pivotal? That’s a good word for it, I guess.’

I asked, ‘Would I be spoiling your fun if I asked you what this was all about?’

‘Perhaps, you’d allow me to answer that, Dusty.’ Minnie stepped forward and took centre stage. ‘I’d like you to think of this evening as my Valentine card to you, Robbie.

‘Dusty, Frankie, Joey and the others make up the team I’ve put together. I have a proposition that I’d like to put before you. I think you’ll enjoy it. Unfortunately, it will require retiring some, if not all, of the board members who thought they couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks. I don’t suppose you’ll mind that too much.’

I didn’t think I would mind too much at all. I had something very special in mind for them – very special indeed.

I turned to Dusty. ‘There’s the small matter of a wager,’ I grinned. Dusty looked a little sheepish.

‘I have a confession, Mr Hartley. I don’t own a Porche or a Lotus, Sir.’

‘That’s fine,’ I said. ‘I’ve never learned to drive.’

Christian McCulloch

Christian McCulloch is a prolific British writer with a colourful background. He’s been an International teacher in British West Indies, Singapore (Principal), Japan and Hong Kong, also 10 years in Special Needs in UK. He now writes full time. He has written 10 novels, 12 novellas and many short stories.

Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 2) by Christian McCulloch

  1. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 1) by Christian McCulloch
  2. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 2) by Christian McCulloch
  3. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 3) by Christian McCulloch

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club

A Hangout for the Excessively Rich

Note: 1929. Members of Chicago’s North Side Gang were lined up against a wall and assassinated by unknown assailants, some dressed as police officers. Seventy shots in all were fired. Al Capone was suspected of having a significant role in the massacre, as were members of the Chicago Police Department. ‘Bugs’ Moran, Capon’s arch-enemy, either escaped or was absent.

Part Two

Each player shuffled in his seat to make himself comfortable. Uniformed staff, female I noticed, suitably non-she-wolf, closed in on the table with boxes and trays. They professionally emptied them onto the baize table. Two packs of cards were placed in the middle. I was given my stake.

‘Dog biscuits? You play for dog biscuits?’ I asked. Was this a passing nod to the Theatre of the Absurd, a piece of surrealism or simply a pantomime joke?

‘Why not?’ said Frankie. ‘Folks play for chips. If you’re playing for a dog, it makes sense to use doggie treats.’ Now, I wasn’t sure if I should take any of it seriously. Had I been thirty years younger I might have enjoyed chewing on such avant guard bones. At sixty-nine, life is absurd enough without adding existential meanings to such nonsense. I suppose the fact that the doggie-treats were hallmarked and monogrammed made some meaningful difference to someone.

Over the next five minutes, the players sorted out the rules of the game. Simply put, the object of the game was to get rid of your chips – your monogrammed dog-biscuits and collect as many of the others as possible. At the end of the game, individual players would barter their winnings or seek to off-load their losses with personal favours. The pastimes of the excessively rich had taken a decidedly Faustian turn since my grandfather had turned over his first million.

I turned to Dusty. ‘I thought you and I were going to gamble on…’ Dusty quickly halted me with his hand.

‘Every man here is playing for something. No one knows individual wagers. It may become clear, either by design or accident. In our particular case one of us will come out the winner and the other – well, you decide. There are no losers in this game except for the one who’s condemned to take charge of everyone else’s Black Dog.’

I could see on the faces of some of the other players that they weren’t sure if I understood the concept of the Black Dog. They’d not allow me to lose face. The player opposite me explained.

‘Winston Churchill, during the second world war suffered from depression and sleep deprivation. During such times of self-doubt, he referred to it as his Black Dog.’

I told them I’d heard the urban legends of long-distant truckers driving throughout too many nights and suffering from exhaustion and hallucinations. They shared a vision of being persued or confronted by a demonic hell-hound they called The Black Dog. A man could be elevated to local hero if he’d survived, if not it was an honourable excuse.

My new friends nodded. ‘He understands the stakes,’ someone said. I wasn’t so sure.

Again I leaned towards Dusty and whispered, ‘What’s the game? Poker? Rummy – Snap?’ He laughed. ‘You can play any game you want so long as you pick up a card when it’s your turn and throw something away to indicate you’ve finished. Nobody cares what you’re playing. The cards are props, use them as such. It’s important to pretend to play the game…’

I interrupted, ‘and if you don’t, they’ll elbow you out and call it early retirement, right?’ Dusty gave me a look that told me he knew exactly what I was talking about.

‘And our little wager?’ I persisted.

‘Let’s say if, after midnight, you can say you’ve had the most exciting night of your life then I win. If you can honestly say you’ve had better, you win, deal?’

‘But what’s to stop me lying to you?’

‘You won’t!’


The details and meanings of what went on between the players are now mostly hidden in a haze. Brief interactions between individuals stand out for reasons that made sense at the time, not now? Now, I picture ten white pins at the end of a bowling alley and a thunderous noise coming up behind me.

The game they told me was a free-flow of concepts, phrases, ideas and verbal images designed to trigger further concepts that can be applied in the world of business or a personal quest to be the top of the heap; your own personal god, if you like. ‘After all, Robbie,’ said Frankie, ‘All a person needs is one good idea to be a success, right?’

‘It depends on your definition of success,’ I replied.

 I was then handed a blank postcard and given time to write down in 100 words what my Black Dog was. For twelve months I’d have no nagging doubts nor any personal hang-ups. In essence, I could live the life of Ip-Piki-Okami, the Spirit of the Lone Wolf with impunity. It made me quiver with excitement. I could go back to work!

I wrote about the impotence and lack of direction in my life. I wrote about my frustrations. By the time I was finished naming names, I felt a great sense of freedom. I’d slipped the leash. I was reminded yet again of Shakespeare’s rousing speech.

Let slip the dogs of war! I almost shouted it.

I looked at the faces around me. I could see nostrils flair, lips pressed hard together, eyes pinched – the penetrating stare of a greater being inside each man as he prepared to go to war against some evil force within him.

We sat. The Black Dog Society was in session. It felt heady. Within me, Excitement was joined by Determination with Curiosity bringing up the rear.

The cards were dealt. The real game began.

The game to determine who’d take charge of removing the obstacles in the way of the members’ business plans was decided, not by what was said but what was left unsaid; the details they preferred to keep private or hidden from their shareholders and business regulators – illegal shit that money-men and Mafia bosses pass on to assasins. A necessary evil, you might say. The polite term is Spin Doctors.

It was Dusty’s party. He was the chairman. He began. He took his time. Whatever he had to say, he had to say in a single phrase. It made me consider the importance of words. Whatever could I say that would light the bonfire of imagination when it came to my turn, I wondered?

Dusty started. ‘A bored man receives an invitation,’ he said. I caught the meaning immediately.

The Black Dog I’d brought with me, the one lying at my feet sprang up. Ambush! It growled.

Wait! I snapped, then more gently, wait.

Dusty laid down a card to show it was the next player’s turn. Joey opposite picked a card from the pack. ‘A man waiting on a bench needs an attitude adjustment.’ He threw down his card like a gauntlet. It was a challenge between Joey and Dusty, Their eyes locked then softened.

Curiosity within me elbowed to the front. The Black Dog settled for the time being.

‘Are we showing or telling and whose story is it? Someone outside is grinding her axe – we don’t know why!’ The speaker threw his card to the table. The person next to him snatched up the top card from the pack. ‘Is it for love or money? Perhaps she wants to refocus his killer instincts!’ he said quickly and threw down his card.

The next player, Joey took his time. ‘When the party’s over, let’s see who’s still standing. Then decide.’ He said it clearly enough but I didn’t understand what it meant. Perhaps one of the others did. Joey placed the card carefully on the baize and looked up at me.

I felt the rush of wind in the London Underground. The air passed through me like the aftershock of an earthquake I’d felt during my time in Japan. Then I saw that it wasn’t the thick smell of strangers but the walls of a cave. I wasn’t being sucked forward, I was flying with my own wings, listening for something but I didn’t know what.

I don’t know if I called out to it or for it. Or if it came to me – whatever ‘it’ was. I remember telling myself that there was still a part of me waiting for the other shoe to drop… Then I realised that I’d said it and the round was complete,

I waited to see who’d throw in his Drabble and be free of his Black Dog for twelve glorious months. It was Joey to leave the pack first. He’d have been my choice too. I don’t remember giving my vote other than by a look. There again, a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse, wouldn’t you say?

We were down to six players, then five.

I was relieved to withdraw after the third round. I wouldn’t be required to do everyone’s dirty work – how dirty, I’d never know. Excessive wealth is not something I’d wish on anyone.

It came down to my wager with Dusty, a red Jag for a Lotus and a Porche. I could see this had been the carrot to get me there. It was my temptation after forty days and forty nights wandering in the wilderness. Would I be asked to cast myself down from some high cliff like the Nazarine? Would my faith in myself be …in the sure and certain hope of being lifted up again? That frightened me. I was sure I’d be like Icarus and suffer his fate, dashed upon the rocks with no angel to mourn my passing.

After the game we sat, relaxed and chatted. It felt like the end of a good working day, business had been completed, the work was done, The days to come looked bright and inviting. There was nothing to tax us. We were free to enjoy the rest of our evening at the 70-shot Club. I wondered how it had got the name. Perhaps, it referred to something during Prohibition in the ‘Twenties’, maybe some bootlegger came in and drank seventy shots. It would’ve killed him, surely.


Suddenly there was a silence. Not the kind that strikes like the sudden cessation of ticking from a grandfather clock, but the second after the countdown hits 000 and you’re waiting for the bomb to go off.

I watched it register on the others, a whitish pallor crept onto their faces. Their eyes, like mine, darted like frightened fish.

The double doors were flung open and the security guard on the street door fell unceremoniously into the club. The Molls and Dolls and Sugarbabes grabbed for the protection of their dates.

Two uniform policemen from the 1920s flanked three men in suits that I’d have placed as bit-characters from ‘The Great Gatsby’; Homburg hats, two-tone Oxford shoes, double-breasted mohair suits, each carrying a gabardine Trench coat.

The uniforms didn’t march like coppers but the suits strutted like James Cagney copycats. Instinct told me nothing was what it appeared to be. The suits and uniforms were marching purposely towards our table. We sat, stiff-armed, palms flat on the baize table, shallow breathing, if at all.

Tommy guns appeared like extra armoured legs on Deathwatch beetles.

One of the policemen stood over Dusty, the other circled the table. I followed him with my eyes.

Frankie went to lever himself out of his chair but was shoved back again. The man pushed his face close to Frankie’s ear, knowing he was still in his peripheral vision. I thought he was going to snarl something but the real menace was in his silence. Then he did something that no man would tolerate. He licked the side of Frankie’s face from jawline to hairline. We all felt the indignity and I heard the strain of sinews tighten in every man’s body. It was the sound of a hemp rope stretching under the weight of a hanged man.

‘You know the routine, Gentlemen – hands in the air – up against the wall.’ It was uttered slowly with the confidence of invincibility. The arrogance I associate with corrupt men meting out personal judgement under the patronage of law enforcement.

Where were my lofty thoughts of right and wrong, the indignance of unfair behaviour, the affrontery of misused power and office? The vexation? The anger? The rage?

Gone! My will deserted me. The walls closed in on me. What was being shouted sounded like garbled words strangled as the tape broke and spun on the wheel of a film projector.

I felt hands push into my back as I stumbled to face the bricks behind the card table. I sneaked a sideways look at Dusty beside me. His eyes were closed. His lips were moving silently as if saying a prayer.

I heard a series of mechanical clicks that I took to be the cocking of weapons. Then silence that could’ve lasted minutes more than seconds. My over-stretched nerves snapped when I heard the deafening sound of round after round being fired behind me.

I saw brick dust spitting from holes along the wall. I heard pleas, appeals and prayers. I saw holes rip open in the clothing of those lined up facing the wall with spurts of blood that splashed across the surface like a Jackson Pollock painting and ran down like thick silt thrown up against the windscreen of a high powered motorboat.

Dusty fell to his knees, his fingernails dragging down the brick face then falling away to join the crumpled heap that was his body. The blood pooled under him with a lazy persistence.

So much blood, I thought. I wondered if my body would have as much and would I have time to watch it leak away? I closed my eyes and waited my turn.

How long I had been on my knees, pressed against the wall I couldn’t tell. I felt two strong hands under my armpits, pulling and grabbing, trying to drag me away. I stumbled and lurched in no straight line. My leg muscles were screaming and a panic-voice within me cried out for mercy, begging me to stay still and allow some miraculous cure to heal my body before I could dare to see what damage the bullets might have done to me.

Whoever was pulling me wouldn’t stop. We must’ve looked like macabre dancing partners crashing through fire doors, bouncing and sliding along an endless half-lit corridor until we fell through one final set of doors that set off alarms and delivered us like a single piece of choking gristle into the cold February night.

The pressing claustrophobia was behind me and I felt new energy surge through my legs and spread like an electric charge into my brain. We were out but not away.

‘Get in the front! Get in the front!’ I heard.

Christian McCulloch

Christian McCulloch is a prolific British writer with a colourful background. He’s been an International teacher in British West Indies, Singapore (Principal), Japan and Hong Kong, also 10 years in Special Needs in UK. He now writes full time. He has written 10 novels, 12 novellas and many short stories.

Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 1) by Christian McCulloch

  1. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 1) by Christian McCulloch
  2. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 2) by Christian McCulloch
  3. Serial Killers: Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club (Part 3) by Christian McCulloch

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Valentine’s Night in the 70-Shot Club

A Hangout for the Excessively Rich

Note: 1929. Members of Chicago’s North Side Gang were lined up against a wall and assassinated by unknown assailants, some dressed as police officers. Seventy shots in all were fired. Al Capone was suspected of having a significant role in the massacre, as were members of the Chicago Police Department. ‘Bugs’ Moran, Capon’s arch-enemy, either escaped or was absent.

Part One 

I was at a loose end. Christmas had come and gone and I’d not received so much as a card with a fat Santa stuck in a chimney. My sixty-ninth birthday had caught up with me but limped away, again, no card, no candle, only a dark looming cloud of pointlessness.

They say money can’t buy you love. I couldn’t even find anyone selling kisses! At sixty-nine, I told myself, I’d settle for a hand to hold, even a paw would do.

It was February 14th. A gold-edged invitation card lay on the front door mat, calling me, offering me a welcome diversion. It read, VALENTINE’S NIGHT AT THE 70-SHOT CLUB – a hangout for the excessively rich. It was personalised with my name in copperplate. Robert E Lee-Hartley. It was impressive. I slipped it into my pocket and didn’t give it another thought, such is my attention span since they’d gently (but, oh so politely) elbowed me out of my own Company.

My father once told me that all it needed was one good idea and a gutterpup could become a king. He never told me what to do after that one good idea.

He put me to work in the Mail Room and I set about franking the outgoing and sorting the incoming. That was as interesting as it got.

After the first week, I was bored to tears. By the end of the second week, I knew more about the Company than I ever do now.

It seemed to me that the higher up the corporate ladder one went the less one had to do – not counting playing golf, squash, Backgammon and stud poker, of course. That seemed pretty attractive at the time. The only hard part was coming up with that one good idea my father talked about. That didn’t hit me for another two weeks by which time I’d received my first paycheque.

I remember holding it up to the light and thinking, Is that all I’m worth? Then it struck me – that one idea that would transport me from the bowels of Levett, Son & Hessenberg to the old man’s private suite, a one-stop glass elevator ride to the top – The Eyrie! As I held that first paycheque up to the light I knew what was missing – a watermark! And the rest, as they say, is history.

I exchanged the grubby coal face of the mine for the sterile glass-n-chrome menagerie where fast-track young executives pieced together their wings of bright feathers with beeswax and talked about their suntans.



I caught sight of Dusty out of the corner of my eye as the front door clicked sharply closed. He was lounging on the wooden bench smoking a cigarette with nothing more to do than admire the grounds and watch the groundstaff looking busy. I was walking towards the line of cars parked nose to bumper wondering how big a shoehorn it would take to extract one of those hot-off-the-factory-floor babies and put it on the private road.

‘That’s one helluva nice looking motor,’ he said. ‘I’ve never had much of an interest in cars but your red Jag – well, what can you say? ‘They don’t make ’em like that any more…’

‘Well, I guess they do or else it wouldn’t be here, would it!’ I don’t know why I took such an aggressive stance. I guess there was nothing he could’ve said to lift me out of my Black Dog Day blues.

‘You a gambling man?’ Before I could answer he was laughing to himself, telling me that his car was the Mamba green Porche some fifty yards or more up from the ornamental pond.

There was something about his easy, distracted, devil-may-care voice that made me pause to look him over. I turned and he made room for me on the bench. It felt like the most natural thing in the world; to sit next to an unknown person on a bench on a cold February afternoon. Perhaps, I was feeling guilty for being pithy. If I couldn’t have a hand to hold, even a paw, sitting, chatting on a bench with a total stranger on a private estate for the excessively rich was the next best thing. There was something about the phrase, for the excessively rich, that sounded familiar.

‘Do you like dogs?’ he asked. Again, before I could answer he was onto something else. He bounced up from the bench and I too was standing up. We were ambling in the direction of the Mamba green Porshe he’d waved a hand at earlier. ‘You know, you should come to my club.

‘This is what I’ll wager,’ he said. ‘I’d let you test drive it but someone’s gonna have to phone for security to come along with a shoehorn – the way they’re parked.’

I laughed. Of course, I laughed. It was almost word for word what I’d been thinking. It doesn’t take much to imagine one’s just met a new best friend. Sounds daft, I know, but loneliness is a kind of snatchy-grabby sort of emotion and I liked the way he said, dogs.

I peered into the interior of the Porche and wondered if I’d smell leather or French fries. I nodded and affectionately tapped the roof. I was only being polite.

‘It would look good on you,’ he laughed. ‘A good wager. Why don’t we work out the nuts and bolts over a couple of cocktails tonight?

‘Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day, after all. If you can’t treat some girl on Valentine’s Day, then treat someone you truly love – yourself! Nothing says I LOVE ME better than a Lotus, right?’

‘I thought you said you’d wager your Porche for the red Jag?’

‘Porche? Lotus? What’s the difference? Hell! I’ll wager both if that’s what you want. D’you wanna see the Lady – the Lotus? She’s just past the Honda, behind the Bentley.’ I told him I knew the car, a nifty motor. I loved taking sneaky-peaks whenever I walked past on the way to the bus stop. He missed my last remark. I smiled to myself.

‘Of course, you’d have to have an invitation to get into the 70-Shot Club,’ he said with a wicked smile.

Pennies were beginning to drop. I’m not as green as I’m cabbage looking, as my Housemaster used to say. I produced the card that had landed on my doormat. ‘Like the one you posted through my door?’ I gave him that cynical look I’d cultivated with my board members when they came to me with their new ideas of restructuring my Company.

‘I’m glad you got it. I’ll send my man to collect you. Bring your dog. It’s time to slip the leash and find a new ride. D’you know what Ip-Piki-Okami means?’

‘ Ip-Piki-Okami?’

Dusty said, ‘You’re an ideas man, you’ll love this;  IP-PIKI-OKAMI means the Spirit of the Lone Wolf. It’s the idea of an Alpha wolf who’s outrun one pack, looking to lead another that’s faster – killer idea, right?’

I thought so. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I began to feel an excitement that had been denied me for years. ‘But I don’t have a dog,’ I told him.

‘Of course, you do. Every man has a Black Dog. What you need to know is that the beast knows no master. The thing to do is get rid of it. The ultimate revenge, of course, is to pass it on to someone else but, as no one wants it, it becomes a challenge. That’s an exciting concept wouldn’t you say?’ I had no idea what he was talking about.

‘I’ll see you tonight. Happy Bloody Valentine’s. Robbie.’


Later that evening, on the way over in the car (a second-hand Honda I noticed), I knew I was walking into a set-up, but would it be an ambush? The driver tried to engage me in conversation but I was thinking about the differences; set-up, ambush.

Dusty wasn’t threatening. Quite the opposite. He had an open face. The face of a poet or a writer. A writer more like. Less effeminate more clownish. I thought he’d make a good salesman or motivator.

I sank back into my seat – the uncomfortable Honda seat. I felt a flush of annoyance that Dusty drove a Lotus and a Porche but he’d sent an uncomfortable second-hand Honda to pick me up and take me out to a club on Valentine’s Night. Then I got to thinking about what kind of man is prepared to wager two beautiful sports cars?

I wondered if I was still quick enough to handle a fast beast like that. This brought me on to thinking about Ip-Piki-Okami and the idea about the Spirit of the Lone Wolf.

By this time I’d worked out, there was an element of fear for the person who walked into a set-up but didn’t know it. But for the one who knows it, there’s an opportunity to feel curiosity and excitement so long as he keeps his head. Lord above! When was the last time I’d felt curiosity and excitement at the same time?

It was Valentine’s and the night owls were out. All it needed was a full moon for lovers to make a wish together. When I craned my neck, I saw a great ping-pong ball drift between two high-rise office towers.

It was then that I heard a howl.

I had to fight off unwanted thoughts of persecution, dark imaginings of betrayal, frustration and self-doubt; my Black Dog. What was it that Dusty said? Everyone’s got one. The thing to do was get rid of it. The best revenge is to…

‘This is the 70-Shot Club, Sir. You want for me to wait? I’m paid for the night. If you’d like me to take you someplace else, somewhere quieter, more your…’ I cut him off. Damn kids! I pulled hard at the leash – control, I told myself. Be wily, sniff it out before settling in for some fun – caution!

‘That side street? Where does it go?’ I asked. He told me there was a loading bay behind the club. He thought there were a couple of pubs, maybe a bar.

‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘You wanna check it out? I got all night.’ I told him I was expected but he could hang around. ‘You never know what might happen. You married? Good. I don’t have to feel guilty.’ I looked at his two eyes in the mirror. He was more rabbit than fox – definitely no wolf.

As I walked away from the Honda, he wound down his window and called after me. ‘Howl at the moon, Grandpa!’ Then he laughed, waved and fanned his fingers around his face pretending to howl and then be frightened but he was still smiling. No wolves out tonight. I laughed and waved back.


The closer I came to the club, the more I felt something filling me. I thought of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood… Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage; then lend the eye a terrible aspect… I felt good!

I was met at the door. ‘Good evening, Sir. Your party is waiting for you in the private members club.’

‘And who is my party?’ I asked.

‘Why, The Black Dog Society, Sir. Mr Dusty and friends – most polite gentlemen, Sir.’

‘And generous?’ It was a cynical remark, I admit. It doesn’t hurt to growl on unfamiliar territory.

‘May I get you something from the bar, Sir?’

‘Yeah. I’d like a Bloody Mary – double, hold the Tobasco.’ Then, for comic relief, I added, ‘And a doggie bowl.’

Dusty approached. ‘Robbie! Glad you could come. Come and meet the others. You’ll love ’em! Pirates! Villains! Outlaws, every one of them. In this town, any new idea or concept was probably dreamed up by one of these guys.’

The waiter arrived, my drink in one hand, doggie bowl in the other. Dusty tried to hide his laughter. I wasn’t sure who the joke was on.

‘Gentlemen? This is Robbie.’ Dusty produce the doggie bowl I’d ordered. ‘Better watch out, Gents. The man has a sense of humour and I think he’s baiting us also.’

‘ I’m Frankie. Welcome to the 70-Shot Club.’ The others chimed in, ‘…the hangout for the excessively rich!’ We all laughed.

‘The obscenely, excessively rich!’ said one.

‘The shamelessly, obscenely, excessively rich!’ said the next. I was sure there would have been further additions by the other two if Dusty hadn’t called a halt to it. ‘Enough! Save it for the game, shall we?’ He gestured to a well-lit but private corner.

There were two exits, the toilets clearly marked, no dark corners, no hidden spaces, no watching eyes, no apparent danger – not a scent of it, yet! I took a place with a clear line of sight of the entrance, the dance floor and the exits. Having checked the scene, taken in the situation, I cast my eyes like a metal detector over the company.

The members of The Black Dog Society wore their wealth in good taste, expensive but casual. There was a scent about them. At first, I thought it to be that killer composure I saw amongst the young professionals in my Company.

 There’s nothing so unpredictable as a hungry wolf in the boardroom. The only thing they lack is confidence and opportunity. Give them a few seasons and they’ll have your throat out with your guts and dignity spooled out on the eighteen-foot walnut conference table. They call it – Early Retirement!

‘Whatcha say, Frankie?’

‘I’d say Robbie ain’t no doughnut!’ The others laughed. ‘Let’s play to find out who’s going to be Master of the Hell Hounds for the next twelve months.’

Dusty turned to me. ‘It’s a game we play only once a year. It’s a knockout. Whoever is the last left in must sort out all the obstacles outlined in the Drabbles.’

‘What’s a Drabble?’ I asked.

‘It’s a 100-word postcard that each member has carefully written out. Whatever he feels must be eliminated from his life or business he writes down; his Black Dog. It’s one person’s duty to do away with all the obstacles standing in the way of the others doing whatever is needed to be done. The others support him for the year. Believe me, it’s an unenviable task but it’s fair and necessary’

‘What if that obstacle is a person or a set of people?’

‘Robbie. The Black Dog Society is a closed brotherhood. If someone is standing in your way, the Master of The Black Dogs will remove it or them for you – permanently, if that’s what you want. We make our own rules. It’s one of the perks of being excessively rich, wouldn’t you say?’

I spoke under my breath. ‘Who needs Science Fiction villains in the congregation when we can never be sure who the High Priest of Holy Orders might be. Purity isn’t an assurance of position.’ I told him. ‘Every man communes with his own God.’ What I omitted to say was that I was still looking for mine.

‘It’s 11 o’clock,’ said Dusty. ‘That gives us an hour. Let’s start.’

Christian McCulloch

Christian McCulloch is a prolific British writer with a colourful background. He’s been an International teacher in British West Indies, Singapore (Principal), Japan and Hong Kong, also 10 years in Special Needs in UK. He now writes full time. He has written 10 novels, 12 novellas and many short stories.