... The Aces and Eights
card room started out as a tin shack on Skidmark Row, where reprobates
could play a few hands of stud in out of the sun, on top of a cooler stocked
with warm Schlitz and cold comfort. When the owner and founder, Asa Aces
High Garrett, was found dead in a bizarre shaving accident, the
shack was taken over by two rambler-gamblers named Dennis McPherson and
Denny Larabee, referred to collectively as the Dens of Iniquity. Between
the two of them, the Dens had enough political clout, stock-piled ammo,
and liquid assets to build the Aces and Eights into a three-story gamblers
paradise, from the magnetized one-armed bandits in the basement to the
blowjob tournaments on the roof.
... As Dumble headed for the entrance, his
head began to clear, his eyes began to focus on his mission. His knees
still felt hollow and his heart still felt like it was in his sinuses,
but he forded ahead. The automatic entry doors slid open for him with
a polite ping, and a charcoal cloud of cigarette smoke wafted out on an
... The ground floor was still a card room,
the largest card room in the entire damned land. Tables covered every
square inch of the thick carpet, all the way back to the sweeping staircases
going up to the 2nd floor mezzanine. Tables dedicated to every game imaginable:
draw, stud, acey-deucy, three-card brag, strip (singles or couples), hearts,
blackjack, Uno, pai gow, baccarat, faro, teen patti, mille bornes, war,
and let it die. Every single game, except one: a huge banner hung from
the ceiling which proclaimed, TEXAS HOLD EM IS FOR FRAT BOYS
AND OTHER COCKSUCKERS
... As Dumble entered, as he saw the heads
of every reprobate and transgressor swivel in his direction, as each amigo
of the Adversary, each buddy of Beelzebub, each pal of Baal rose
and began to draw weapons, a smile once again spread across Dumbles
face. Sure, hed been thrown a curve in the parking lot just then,
but he was still swinging for the bleachers.
... He popped his neck. Come hither,
motherfuckers, he said.
... Lily parked the car
and listened to the incessant drumming of gunfire from the ground floor.
Folks were fleeing the building, but not in the droves she would have
guessed. Given that shed just seen Dumble slip, that for whatever
reason he seemed to have an Achilles in his heel, Lily thought shed
have a look around back, make sure he was covered.
... A Scarlet Womans work is seldom
... As Lily came up on the rear of the building,
there grew a chorus of whines and barks louder and louder. Unbeknownst
to Lily or Dumble, tonight thered been planned a huge dogfight tournament,
possibly the largest in the regions history, a history already fraught
with huge dogfight tournaments. A special arena had been erected behind
the Aces and Eights, a chain-link monstrosity designed to keep up to fifty
dogs separate in their own runs until the proper switch was thrown. The
dogs could see and hate their opponents, but couldnt lay a tooth
or nail on them until the gates were lifted into the canine Thunderdome.
... Lily climbed up the side and walked over
the pens. Six feet below the soles of her feet, the slobbering maws of
the Rotties, Pitties, Dobies, and other savage beasties gnashed up at
her, saliva dripping like venom.
... Lily put a thoughtful finger on her chin
and looked back over her shoulder at the back entrance to the card room.
There had to be a control box around here somewhere...
... The Desert Eagles were
empty; the shells were in the car. But the Mag and the sawed-off were
still good to go, their barrels warm like a lovers embrace. The
stench of gunsmoke in the room had actually overpowered the smell of Benson
... The card room was a sea of corpses and
splintered chairs. Blood and gin lapped at Dumbles ankles as he
kicked aside the prostrate husks of the demon-seed hed dispatched
to their filthy overlord. He was making his way back to the opulent staircases
by the emergency exit doors, when a warning shot shattered the rubber
tree planter in front of him.
... Not another step there, Father,
said Dennis McPherson. Smoke curled from the barrels of his Remington
1740. Weve all been done saved round here.
... McPherson aimed and fired again, and
Dumble double-backed, propping up the corpse of Bald Abraham for cover.
... Yeah, said Denny Larabee
as he descended the opposite staircase, shots from his Beretta gouging
the carpet at Dumbles feet, We have guitar mass every Wednesday
upstairs in the chapel. He giggled. Our Lady of Conceptual
Immaculation. He switched his pistol over to his other hand so he
could pick his nose.
... The Dens, Dumble said and
spat. He ditched Balds recently ventilated body and pulled a wrecked
card table over on its side to deflect Larabees coke-addled aim.
He shouted out, Your iniquity shall spread no further, Dens, not
from this day forth.
... Maybe so, McPherson said,
pausing halfway down the stairs to reload, but best you can do is
halve that spread.
... See, Larabee said, stopping
level with his partner across the room, about seven stairs up, We
was watching you shoot all these here fish in this here barrel.
He grinned and scratched his ass. Dumble noticed the lump of a tail in
Larabees cover-alls. But whose turn is it in the barrel now,
padre? Larabee said.
... Them pretty Eaglesa yers
are all spent, Father, McPherson said and ran a hand through his
hair. As long and lustrous as it was, McPhersons hair could not
hide the nubs of his horns from the gospel-sharpened eye of Dumble. And,
McPherson said, were betting you cant hit botha
us afore onea us hits you.
... And we is betting men, after all,
Larabee said, giggling as he aimed his gun at Dumbles head.
... From behind his cover, Dumble looked
out at his enemies, surrounding him like assholes will. Dumble held his
face to the heavens and loudly declared, Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no peckerwoods, for Thou
art with me. Thy rod, Dumble cocked his Magnum, and Thy staff,
he gripped the sawed-off more tightly, they comfort me. Thou preparest
a shitload of broken card tables before me in the presence of these fuckheads.
Thou anointest my head with Ben-Gay. My flask runneth over.
... Larabee giggled. Sure is a mouthful,
padre, he said, Gonna be hard to fit it all on your tombstone.
... Well see it gets done, though,
McPherson said and racked his gun. Least we can do.
... There was a scratch at the emergency
... Fuck was that? Larabee said,
his voice suddenly a whisper.
... The doors flew open, and a snarling canine
stampede flooded into the room. Dog flesh whipped past Dumble, fluttering
his pants legs and mussing his hair. The thunder of their paws was deafening,
drowned out by the dogs vengeful howls.
... Holy shit! Larabee said,
as a giant Bullmastiff charged up the stairs at him. She was an old girl,
to be put out to pasture after tonights planned festivities. But
she had plenty of fight left. Her black jowls were pulled back over jagged
teeth, her yellow eyes as deadly as her breath.
... Larabee got off one wild shot as the
Bull clamped her jaws onto his arm, pulling him down the stairs with both
their weight. Even in the tumble, the Bull tightened her vice grip until
Larabees elbow popped like a water balloon, and synovial fluid mixed
with her drool. Larabee had just enough time to scream before five or
six more dogs began to shred him like a hen in a thresher.
... McPherson managed to blow the face off
a Pit Bull from where he was standing, but before he could pump the Remington
again, a Cane Corso the size of a pony leapt up at him. The big fella
had no ears on his massive head, but a huge scar that ran across his brow,
like Frankensteins guard dog. McPhersons eyes bulged as the
Corso sailed through the air at him, mouth first, and wrapped his jaws
around McPhersons throat. When McPherson landed on the stairs, he
felt his spine snap just before the Corso, with one twist of his powerful
head, tore McPhersons throat out.
... The rest of the dogs, after making a
quick search for Milk-Bones amongst the corpses, all fled out the front
door and into the night. Dumble turned as Lily strolled in through the
big double doors, a very self-satisfied look on her face.
... Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life, Dumble said.
... Lily looked down at her tits. Well,
Ive never heard em called that before, but itll do.