“Do it now.”
“Stalin ain’t gonna like this.”
“No lie,” the second guard replied.
The sentry dropped his rifle, assumed the position next to his friends.
I slipped the grenade from my pocket with my left hand, pressing the lever hard against the body. It felt like it weighed fifty pounds. I thrust it to the screamer.
“Pull the pin.”
“No fuckin’ way.”
I shoved the muzzle of the Beretta close to his eye and repeated my instructions. His finger trembled as he hooked it through the ring. He pulled. The pin slipped out far too easily for my peace of mind. I pressed the lever hard against the grenade body.
“Are we having fun yet?” I asked.
The three brothers didn’t think so. Truth be told, neither did I. I told the screamer to slip the pin into my left jacket pocket. He did it without taking his eyes off the grenade.
“Now,” I said. “Let’s go see Stalin.”
Stalin’s apartment was on the third floor. His corridor, like the others, was littered with crates that apparently contained major appliances. The word BELLOTI was stenciled on the larger crates and WORLDWARE, MELLGREN’S, and CK COMPUTERS were stamped on the smaller boxes. The four of us juked and jived around them, me in the rear, my heart pounding like I was running the Twin Cities marathon.
Through the door I could hear a man shouting. “I don’t believe it!” He repeated the phrase three times.
“What now?” a second voice responded without rancor.
“Stems and seeds. I’m standing here with a baggie full of fucking stems and seeds.”
“You the one insists we cut back on distribution, git outta the trade.”
“And you the one insists we keep our hand in. So how come I’m standin’ here with a bag of stems and seeds?”
I gestured for the screamer to open the door. He did and the four of us poured into the room. Two men turned to look at us. One was sitting in a brown vinyl lounge chair, a ledger book balanced on his knee. The other was standing in front of him, gripping what remained of a nickel bag of grass. The man with the bag was tall and thin, his eyes glistened with fury and his mouth was frozen in a vicious snarl.
“How many times I gotta tell you all to knock!”
“Stalin,” the screamer said quietly.
That’s when Stalin noticed me standing behind the three brothers.
“Who’re you?” he asked.
I pointed the Beretta at his face.
Stalin didn’t seem too impressed. He glanced down at the man in the faux leather chair and said, “Who in charge of security ’round here?”
“I gotta do everything … .” Then to me, “How come you still alive, McKenzie?”
“Man, you drive an SUV.”
“So now you know I have nothing to lose.”
Stalin grinned brightly.
“Last mother point a gun at me, know what I did to ’im? I wired his johnson to a car battery. That got ’im up.” He chuckled at his own joke. The screamer and two guards chuckled, too, but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it.
“Was it a Die Hard?” I asked.
“A Die Hard?” Stalin laughed harder. “A Die Hard battery, that’s funny. You’re a funny guy, McKenzie.”
“You’re a real humorist yourself.” I was trying to sound confident. I doubt I looked it. Especially after I heard the voice to my right.
“Shhhheeeeeeettt,” it said, drawing the word out. I took my eyes off Stalin only long enough for a glance. Two men were standing in the doorway of what looked to be a bedroom. One was sporting a mustache. The other was clean-shaven. The same guys the cops rousted outside my house Saturday. The one with the mustache was hefting a Soviet-made RPK light machine gun with forty-round magazine—our equivalent to the BAR. He was pointing it at me.
Where were they getting this stuff ?
The man without the mustache said, “This is McKenzie, man.”
“No shit. You just tune in?” Stalin asked calmly. “Git with the program.”
“You’re dead, McKenzie,” said the one with the mustache as he sighted down the barrel of the machine gun. My three companions became anxious and started to slip away.
“Nobody moves,” I told them and they froze in place around me, my bodyguard.
Stalin seemed almost amused. “What’s the matter with you three? Get outta the way.”
I kept pointing the Beretta at Stalin. He didn’t seem to mind.
“Well?” he asked.
I brought my left hand up from behind the screamer’s back and let Stalin get a good look at what I was holding.
“Fuckin’ A!” He said it like an actor trying to reach the upper balcony. “What up with that shit?” He looked at Mr. Mustache with the light machine gun then back at my companions at the door. He was staring directly into the screamer’s eyes when he said, “I am really, really, really unhappy ’bout this.”