The town recedes into the mirror. All the lights behind us are red. Valerie sits biting her lip, the .38 lying between us on the seat. I am a dead man, of course, but I knew that from the start.
Eddie "The Talker" is rattling on at a table near the bar, hunched forward, distracted, idly circling his finger in a puddle of beer. This is Eddie's habit, his ongoing conversation with a stranger who comes to Eddie sometimes when he's troubled and he's had a few drinks. They seem on good terms, this stranger and Eddie. Some say it's the father, twenty years dead, some say not. No one pays him attention.

What is unusual, however, is the woman sitting next to Eddie, who gives me a careful look: Valerie "Not So Nice", Big Arnold's old lady sitting at Eddie's table and looking uncomfortable. Big Arnold of the West Side Syndicate who is nowhere in sight.

There are other people in the establishment, not so many as there might be on a Thursday night, and they are keeping their distance from Eddie and the woman, making them all the more obvious and alone. I am thinking I would like a drink, but this scene has a certain disturbing element and I am thinking maybe I should go down the street and drink somewhere else. For my health. Big Arnold of the West Side Syndicate has a notorious jealous streak when it comes to Valerie "Not So Nice". Still, I am seeing that Kelly the bartender has placed a bottle and a glass on the bar at my usual place and, as I said, I am in need of a drink. I walk to the bar. I am looking at Eddie and Valerie out of the corner of my eye. Valerie "Not So Nice" is looking back.

Kelly pours. I place my raincoat over the package I am carrying beside me. I give him a quizzical look.

Kelly is obviously not happy. I have known him maybe six years, Kelly once running numbers over on 38th, so he understands things not every bartender understands, not that this situation with Valerie and Eddie is a difficult subject.

"Been here for about an hour," he says. "Not a word out of "Not So Nice"."

I lean closer. I have not seen Kelly in such a state. "Arnold's nowhere around? Valerie "Not So Nice" is here alone with  Eddy "The Talker" having a drink?" I would have added "in a dump like this", but I am not wanting to add more grief to Kelly's evening as I know he owns a percentage of the establishment. Broken chairs and bullets in the glass will cost him money and the city might well shut him down for hosting a rowdy clientele, he could be out of the business he is counting on to provide him with his retirement.

"Word on the street is somebody we know has pumped Arnold of the West Side Syndicate full of bullets while he is taking his afternoon nap. Word on the street is Valerie "Not So Nice" has knowledge of this event. Has, in fact, a .38 revolver in her handbag, one very much like the handbag that now sits on the floor beside her."

I am thinking it is now definitely the time to leave this establishment by the back and move my person to another part of town until this business comes to rest. I am not thinking quickly enough. The front door is suddenly flung open and in walks Papa Tony "Staccato" La Bass with three gentlemen of his acquaintance sporting Thompson guns. I can hear the guns chatter and the sound of breaking glass as the lights go out and I am running like I have never run before in my life toward the back door, someone grabbing the back of my belt and shouting in a woman's voice, "move your ass!" This is not bad advice.

The alley behind Kelly's is dark and Valerie "Not So Nice" is attached to the hand that has been pushing me out the door, the other hand holding the .38 revolver Kelly was mentioning as we were so rudely interrupted. "Where's your car!" she shouts. I am dividing my attention between "Not So Nice" who is pressing up close and the cocked .38, which is wavering under my nose.

Now understand about Valerie "Not So Nice": "Not So Nice" is a moniker designed to remind any and all who may foolishly even for a moment forget that she is Big Arnold of the South Side Syndicate's girlfriend. Big Arnold who will slice you and dice you and hurt you in ways you cannot possibly imagine should you glance at Valerie "Not So Nice" in a way Arnold does not appreciate. If this is confusing, you need to see "Not So Nice" even as she is looking right now, armed and dishevelled in the dark.

I sometimes think this world is filled with people not unlike myself, passing through as best we are able without remark. One footprint of a thousand footprints on a sandy beach, the tide inexorably moving in and out, erasing any trace of our brief existence. Except, of course, for "Not So Nice". Born of woman, well yes, perhaps, but arriving into this world fully formed and dangerous, emerging from the long dark tunnel into the shimmering light perfectly able to pluck your heart with a glance.

This is, you see, not the first time that I have met Valerie "Not So Nice" standing here beside me now in this dark alley behind Kelly's bar with a look on her face saying "take me to your car and get us out of this town right now, stupid man", even though Papa Tony "Staccato" La Bass will then most assuredly track us down and hack my liver out with the knife he keeps in his jacket pocket, for while "Not So Nice" was icing Arnold on his living room couch, I was cleaning out the safe in Tony "Staccato's" office on the other side of town, the contents of which - large bills, bearer bonds and similarly valuable stuff - are even now in the package under my arm.

"Of course," I said.

The town recedes into the mirror. All the lights behind us are red. Valerie sits biting her lip, the .38 lying between us on the seat. I am a dead man, of course, but I knew that from the start.
The photograph is one of three we were given to choose from for this month's collab. I notice that so far it has been the favorite. I chose the "get out of town" picture (my interpretation of the picture, my choice of words). The rest of the photographs are pieces of the original enlarged with distortion added.
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