Open 2024 Stories - Dennis Piszkiewicz


Local Politics

By Dennis Piszkiewicz


The Penthouse Café was in the basement of a row house on Twenty-Seventh Street. Warner went inside, took a seat at the empty counter, and said to the waiter, “Jimmy is the kitchen still open?”

“We’re done serving dinners, but we can make you a sandwich.”

“Gimme pastrami on an Italian roll.”

“We’re out of pastrami and Italian rolls.”

“What have you got?”

“Ham and roast beef, sourdough and rye bread.”

“Then make it ham on rye,” Warner said, “and bring me a draft beer, too.”

A few minutes later, Jimmy came back from the kitchen with Warner’s sandwich, a squirt bottle of brown mustard, a bottle of beer, and an empty glass. The label on the bottle said, “Genuine Draft,” even though it had never seen the inside of a keg.

Warner had finished his sandwich and was on his second beer when two men walked down the stairs into the Penthouse and sat at the counter, one on each side of Warner.

The guy on Warner’s right had his head shaved down to his slick scalp. The guy on his left looked younger and at least fifty pounds heavier than the guy with the shaved head.

Jimmy said, “What can I get for you gentlemen?”

Skinhead, the guy with the shaved head, said, “We don’t want anything. We’re here to talk to this gentleman.” He pointed his left thumb in Warner’s direction. “It’s private business.”

Warner looked to his right, then his left. There was just the three of them and Jimmy; no other customers were in the café. It was near closing time, and Jimmy decided that it would be better for him to go to the end of the counter and hang around the cash register. There was a shelf under the counter, under the cash register, where the owner of the Penthouse kept a loaded Smith and Wesson .38 Special, just in case.

Warner said, “You fellas have something you want to say to me?”

Neither of the newcomers said anything for a ten count. Then Skinhead said, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Warner said. “Who are you? Introduce yourselves, you and your chubby buddy.” Warner pointed his thumb at the chubby guy on his left.

“What’s important is that I know who you are.”

Warner was losing what little patience he might have had. “O.K.,” he said. “Who am I?"

“Your Name is Richard Warner. Your day job is you’re a cop. You’ve been one for six years. Right now, you’re suspended without pay because you shot a junkie who was robbing a drug store.”

Warner said, “I’m impressed. You can read. All that was in the newspapers.”

“You also shot a dumb punk for resisting arrest,” Skinhead said. “But lucky you; he didn’t die. You’re just a trigger-happy bastard, ain’t ya?”

“They had it coming,” Warner said.

“We’ve got a job for you, while you’re not working for the P.D. Dickie.”

Warner didn’t take the bait. He’d heard a lot worse from drunk drivers and gang bangers playing the role of school yard bullies.

“Who are we?” Warner asked.

Skinhead continued, ignoring the question.

“We want you to do something for us, Dickie Boy.”

“And what would that be?”


Warner waited a few seconds before he said, “What’s the catch?”

“While you’ve been waiting for the D.A. to figure out if you were justified in pulling the trigger, or charging you for killing that junkie, you’ve been making minimum wage by working as a security guard. Do you want to make more money? Serious bucks?”

Warner waited for Skinhead to explain.

“We want you to take the day off tomorrow.” He looked Warner straight in the eyes, giving him the message that he was both serious and dangerous. “You don’t look too good, Dickie. Call in sick. We’ll cover what you don’t make in your gig tomorrow. We’ll pay you for it.”

“How much?”

Skinhead said to his chubby partner, “Gordo, show him.”

Gordo reached into his inside jacket pocket for an envelope. He handed it to Warner.

“Look inside,” Skinhead said.

The envelope had his name, “Richard Warner,” printed where one would put the address. Warner peeked inside. Without taking anything out, he saw money, crisp hundred-dollar bills, at least ten of them, maybe more.

“What do I have to do for this?” Warner asked again.

“I told you. Nothing.” He took the envelope from Warner. He licked the flap, pressed it shut, and tossed it onto the counter in front of Warner.

Warner left it laying there like a dead fish.

“Think about it,” Skinhead said. “It’s the easiest money you’ll ever make.”

Then Skinhead and Gordogot up to leave.Gordo, turned back and said, “Don’t let us down.”

After Warner finished his ham and rye sandwich, he went back home to his second-floor walk-up. It was the same place he lived in before his old lady dumped him and rode off with that looser driving a Corvette. He poured himself some Scotch and floated an ice cube in it. He thought over the offer from the two hard cases, but what could he do about it? Tell somebody in the department? He was no longer on the best of terms with anybody with any clout. He kept pouring the Scotch until the bottle was empty.



And then the muddy light of dawn began to leak through his bedroom window. Warner woke up with a hangover. He got out of bed and took a shower. He put together a breakfast with double doses of coffee and aspirin. He took a nap and woke feeling better, if not refreshed. He had a late lunch and decided to go to work to see what he was supposed to miss. He suited up and put his nine-millimeter Glock in his belt holster. The working class would be done for the day soon, and he was ready to go to the private party.

Warner’s gig was door security at the Main Street Saloon. On weekends, when the club brought in live music, it featured anything from gangsta rap for the younger crowd to country rock for their parents. The sign by the front door announced:


5:00 to 7:00 Joe Zelinski, Private Party
9:00 to closing The Funking Bluegrass Band.


Warner was responsible for checking I.D.s, weeding out minors, and throwing out obnoxious drunks. This day, it would start with a private party for supporters of City Council Member Joseph Zelinski of the thirteenth district, who was up for re-election. Zelinski was making his sixth run for a four-year term. He had made his career by believing and practicing the philosophy that, “All politics is local.”

The security staff at Main Street Saloon worked in pairs, like Skinhead and Gordo.When the door opened, the after-work crowd began to arrive. Warner began checking invitations and IDs. His partner was working security in the Saloon.Two lines began to form inside. The first line was for a meet-and-greet with the City Council Member. He was the gray-haired guy in the thousand-dollar suit that people lined up to shake hands with, like he was the Godfather. The second line was at the open bar—drinks on the Council Member.When the dance floor got to be standing room only, the Council Member was scheduled to make his pitch for votes and for campaign cash.

Warner had been checking I.D.s and invitations at the front door for a quarter hour before he was sure his partner, working security inside, wasn’t going to show up. Just minutes later, he heard gunshots from inside. Screaming and panicking people ran for the doors.

Warner pulled his Glock from his belt holster and pushed his way past the mob trying to get out. He saw two guys wearing ski masksthat covered their heads and faces, and he squeezed off a half dozen shots: Blam Blam Blam Blam Blam Blam.

One guywith a gun went down.The other left a thin trail of blood as he disappeared in the direction of the back door, the emergency exit.It was supposed to be locked from the outside, but somebody opened it from the inside. It could have been any of the hundreds drinking the Council Member’s liquor.

The first patrol car arrived minutes later with lights flashing and siren screaming. Then the first of the paramedics appeared with their mobile lightshow and the wail of sirens.Finally, a mass invasion of patrol cars and ambulances filled Main Street.

Most partygoers had fled, but casualties littered the dance floor. A few others who had been looking for a good time werecrying over those who had been shot. Acrumpled body lay on thefloor with a gun near its hand. He wasn’t moving. Warner stood over him with his gun aimed at his body.He kicked the guy’s weapon away just as the first siren stopped wailing.Warner put his Glock on the floor near the shooter’s gun.

When the cops came into the Saloon with their weapons drawn, ready to fire, Warner’s hands were up. “This guy on the floor is the shooter,” he shouted to the cops. “His gun is over there. And that Glock, next to it is mine.”

The detectives arrived and began trying to figure out what had happened, Warner had a lot of questions to answer, which he spent the next few hours doing.The techs from the crime lab took Warner’s gun. They told him he didn’t have a choice. His Glock was evidence.

Last to arrive was the coroner’s van: no siren, no flashing lights, no need to hurry. When the coroner was ready to take the dead guy to the morgue, one of the detectives slipped his skimask up so that Warner could see his face. It was, as Warner thought, Gordo.

“Do you know who this is?” the detective asked.

Warner studied Gordo for a few seconds. “No,” he said.



Warner walked down the steps into the Penthouse Café near closing time. Jimmy was working the night shift, as usual. He greeted Warner with, “You look tired. Been working hard?”

“You could say that.”

“Want something to eat?”

“What have you got?”

“We’re done serving diners, but you’re in luck.We still got both pastrami and Italian rolls.”

“I’ll take it, and a beer to wash it down.”

Jimmy went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with Warner’s sandwich order. “So, what have you been doing that makes you so tired?”

“Working.Have you heard the local news?”

“I haven’t heard nothing.. I’ve been here working for the last eight hours.”

Warner needed to decompress, to talk to someone other than those wise ass detectives looking to make a bust at his expense. He briefed Jimmy on the shootings at City Council Member Zelinski’s party.“One of the shooters is dead.” Warner didn’t say who pulled the trigger on him. “At least half-dozen ambulances came for the casualties.Some of them were shot.Some were trampled in the panic. I don’t know how many others--if any--are dead.”

“What happened to the council member? Was he the target?”

“Probably. Last I saw him; he was being carried away in an ambulance. I don’t know what happened to him after that, but with all the gunfire, I wouldn’t count on a happy ending,”

“Did it have anything to do with those hard cases from last night?”

Warner didn’t answer.

Jimmy didn’t notice. He was too busy trying to keep up with Warner’s information dump. “Why would anybody want to kill Council Member Zelinski?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been wondering about that, myself. Maybe something he did. Maybe something he didn’t do. Maybe something he was going to do.”

“Maybe we’ll read about it in the morning paper,” Jimmy said.

“Maybe not. There were so many witnesses and so many shots firedthat it could take days, maybe longer, to untangle the details.”

“Who do you think might’ve been behind it?”

“I couldn’t guess. That kind of information is way above my pay grade.”

Warner finished his sandwich and washed it down with the last of his beer. “I left an envelope here on the counter last night,” he said. “It had my name on it. Do you know what happened to it?”

“Yeah. I put it away somewhere safe.”

“Can you get it for me?”

Jimmy went to the shelf under the cash register and took the envelope from under the gun that was there. Jimmy turned it over to Warner.

Warner said, “Thanks,” and put the envelope in the inside pocket of his jacket.

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’m thinking about taking a long vacation, maybe go to Miami or Las Vegas.”

“Do you know anybody in either of those places?”

“No, and nobody there knows me.”

Warner walked back home, thinking about what to pack in his bag. He didn’t pay attention to the silhouette of the old man limping toward him down the sidewalk.
After a few more steps he realized that it wasn’t an old man; it was Skinhead.

“You double crossed us.” His voice was a mix of disappointment and anger. “You took our money and showed up for work.”Skin head struggled to get the words out. “You shot me.” He took a couple of labored breaths. “Gordo is dead, isn’t he?”

“He had it coming,” Warner said.

“You weren’t supposed to be there. You ruined the plan.”

Warner reached for his gun. It wasn’t there.

The wordsWarner heard before a bullet shattered his brain were, “Goodbye, Dickie Boy.”

Skin head searched Warner as fast as his wounds would let him. He found an empty belt holster and, in the pocket of Warner’s jacket, the envelope full of hundred-dollar bills.

Skin head put the envelope in his pocket. Then he limped away into the night leaving behind a dark trail of blood.


Dennis Piszkiewicz from US had a long career as a teacher and scientist. Along the way he began writing. He started with a textbook and followed it with a few more books on historical topics that grabbed his interest. Recently he has been writing short fiction.


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