“He is an interesting choice,” Gwynn said to a man seated across a table from him. “His origins are murky — ”
The man interrupted by mumbling something.
“Yeah, yeah,” Gwynn replied, waving his hand in a breezy way.
“Well, I should say, I do not know if they are murky. To be direct, I do not know what they are.”
Gwynn scooted his chair backward, which made a sharp barking noise in the quiet room. The man across from him jumped just a little. Gwynn stood.
“But I surmise,” Gwynn said as he stepped sideways, “that he is of one of those quaint, archaic eastern European nationalities, Wallachian or some such. Sinister, you know, with bushy eyebrows, cartoonish heraldry.”
He stepped behind his chair and resumed his serious tone. “In any event, he is an interesting choice.”
Gwynn put his hands on the back of his chair, and leaned forward. The chair creaked, and the color seemed to fade from his face.
“He had this thing he did. It was very effective.” Gwynn grinned.
“You see, whenever his boys had pulled off an ambush or were shaking someone down, he would make this grand entrance, sweeping into the room with foreign-sounding curses and two or three extra thugs who were all, you know, cheesy mustaches and bushy eyebrows,” Gwynn said, lifting his left hand from the chair back and swiping his index finger across his own, closely cropped, brow. “And he would go around the room and choose some poor bastard who was wearing a good pair of sensible boots. And one of the bushy ones would snatch up this guy, wrench him to the ground and hack off his leg — ” Gwynn raised his right leg, and made a chopping motion a few inches above the knee “ — right about here.”
The man across the table let his jaw fall open. Gwynn, though he would not have admitted it, was pleased by the dramatic effect.
“Right?” He paused, straightened his leg, swung around his chair deliberately and sat down again. “I mean, at first it was hacking. Eventually, of course, they used better tools. The last few, I remember, were done with these incredibly compact concrete saws. Rubberized Japanese numbers. I don’t know where they got them, but they could fit under a trench coat like nothing.”
The man across the table had slowly closed his mouth.
“And that is not even the best part,” Gwynn said. “They’d have this poor bastard on the ground, his leg off, you know, and he’s screeching and blood is spurting. And someone from the back, one of his boys, would come up and casually tie off the stump with a tourniquet. Totally unexpected-like. And there’d be this half-serene moment of relative quiet.”
Gwynn leaned back in his chair. The chair groaned.
“Then they’d take the leg and beat the guy to death with it.”
The man’s mouth gaped again.
“Right?” Gwynn smiled and leaned forward.
He waited for his companion’s mouth to close, then pointed a bony finger at him. “See, that was why he picked someone who was wearing sturdy shoes. Like pickin’ out a billiards cue. It made it all go so much faster.”
Gwynn paused thoughtfully. He reclined again. The chair groaned again.
“I mean, not that the poor bastard wasn’t in shock, anyway,” he said. “But to beat a man to death with his own severed leg.”
Gwynn shook his head in what seemed like admiration, adding, “It got your attention.”
The man across the table mumbled again.
“Sure, sure,” Gwynn said.
The man across the table lurched unsteadily to his feet, pushed his chair backward with a screech and hurried out of the room.
Gwynn shuffled the papers in front of him until a crossword appeared. He produced a stubby pencil from his pocket, shook his head and began to scribble.