It's not often that I am struck by lightning twice in one week as far as writing is concerned. The following story was inspired by an email exchange with emo_snal, whose entry for this week's LJ Idol I found very entertaining.* * *
what I'm talking about!" said Humbert, with a smile, as he inspected his bodyguard's new threads.
"Yeah, well," said Sal, obviously unhappy, "the new duds fit like a glove, nobody'd ever guess I'm armed, but I can't draw my piece as fast as I could with my old getup."
"Don't worry about that," said Humbert. "Dressed like this, we show the world that we're, you know, worthy of respect. You know how I work. By imitating the big bosses, we flatter them and show them what we're all about." Humbert paused to relight his cigar. "With time, you'll get used to the new clothes. You spend some time on the range, your speed will come back, too."
"Whatever you say, boss," said Sal. "Anyway, what's our destination for the evening?"
"I need to go over to the plaza to meet with Fontaine," said Humbert. "He and I need to talk."
A cloud fell over Sal's face, but he said nothing. Fontaine was the
big boss and not likely to be impressed with anything as mundane as his and Humbert's stylish new clothes. Still, a job was a job, so he entered the limo and took his seat next to his boss, the up-and-coming head of the Southside rackets, for the short ride to the plaza.
When they got to the plaza, the limo stopped just long enough to let the two men out and then drove off silently. Humbert relit his cigar while Sal looked around, ever alert for threats. The plaza was traditionally considered neutral territory for the city's gangs, whose armored limousines stayed clear of the plaza, except to pick up or drop off passengers.
Two figures detached themselves from a doorway in the building on the opposite side of the plaza and began to cross the broad expanse of the plaza toward them. Humbert and Sal walked out to meet them.
"Good evening, gentlemen!" said Humbert as he and Sal came up to Fontaine and Viggo, Fontaine's bodyguard, near the center of the plaza.
"Yeah," said Fontaine, which sounded more like a grunt. "Let's skip the small talk and get down to business. Have you considered the proposition I made a couple of days ago?"
Humbert spread his arms, which set off his new clothing to maximum advantage. "Well, if you insist on talking business, let's get to it." He looked over at Viggo, whose expression was as unreadable as that of the cobblestones beneath their feet. "In the final analysis, it's a question of respect. I respect you, you know that. I do everything I can to imitate you, because you are an example to be emulated." Humbert pronounced each syllable of the last word with emphasis. He continued: "I mean, you know, my motto's always been: 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.' So I really don't think your proposal regarding my moving up in the organization is acceptable. I was hoping for something a little—bigger."
Fontaine took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. He reached up to rub the bottom of his stubbled chin and said: "It's settled, then. Okay."
A heartbeat later, a gun was in Fontaine's hand. Sal, who had been watching Viggo, had just enough time to grasp the butt of his weapon before Fontaine blew a hole in his chest. All of the birds in the plaza took to the air as Sal's body fell to the ground. There was a look of surprise on the corpse's face.
"You've got to understand," said Fontaine as the muzzle of the gun moved to cover Humbert, "that in my world, guys like you—as small-time as you are—pose a real threat. Today you want this
, tomorrow, you'll try for the whole game. So I've got a motto, too. You want to know what it is?"
"You double-crossing—" began Humbert, and then trailed off with an unprintable epithet. His gaze shifted from Sal's body to the weapon in Fontaine's hand. Then he glanced toward Viggo, who had also drawn his pistol.
"Well, I'll tell you," said Fontaine, "my motto is: 'Killing upstarts like you is the sincerest form of flattery'." Then he started to laugh, and turned to Viggo to share his little joke.
Viggo's pistol erupted and the back of Fontaine's head disappeared in a spray of blood and brains. A second corpse fell to the ground and the whisper of distant wings again filled the air.
"For a moment, I thought you were waiting for an engraved invitation," said Humbert to Viggo.
"I couldn't risk shooting him while he had you covered, Mr. Humbert," said Viggo, making no move to threaten with or put away his weapon. Viggo understood that he was now officially a loose end, and wanted to live long enough to enjoy the money he was to receive for betraying his boss. "I waited until his gun came off you before I shot him."
"What would've happened if the gun hadn't come off me?" asked Humbert. "What if he just decided to shoot me?"
"I would've seen his knuckles whiten as he started to pull the trigger. I would've gotten him in time, but it would've been a tougher shot to make."
The ringing of a cell phone interrupted their conversation. It was Viggo's. He answered it, listened for a moment, then put the instrument away. "Payment has been received, Mr. Humbert. Thank you. It's been a pleasure doing business. You'll never see me again in this town." He withdrew quickly, and soon was a small speck at the edge of the plaza.
Humbert paused to relight his cigar and then looked at Fontaine's body. "So you went against the rules to put one over on me, and I went against the rules to put one over on you." Humbert puffed once more on his stogie, and said: "And I won." As he turned to walk away, Humbert said, to nobody in particular: "It's like I said, 'Imitation is
the sincerest form of flattery'."