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.

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Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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