bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

BAGMAN VOL. 3 IS NOW ON SALE!

Cover illustration © 2016 Shane Evans, Interior illustrations © 2016 Art Cooper


“Be there, or miss out on the invention of the greatest new American pulp imagination at work in decades!!!!”
--Keith Allan Deutsch, Publisher Black Mask Magazine

TALES OF THE BAGMAN VOL. 3, is now on sale!

THE BUTCHER BACK O’ THE YARDS 
There’s a new mob out of Chicago’s meatpacking district. It’s no coincidence their boss is called the Butcher.  While Mac MacCullough works a con job inside, the Bagman and Crankshaft will have to wade through a city of corpses to the stop this new threat to their neighborhood. 

THE CAPTIVES OF RAVENSWOOD

When a mysterious car tries to grab one of Mac’s newsboy buddies, the Bagman realizes the most fragile denizens of the deep city are being kidnapped.  For any normal person, paying the ransom would be a problem…but for the “Little Wiseguys” in Mac’s neighborhood, nobody even asks for one. 

THE DEVIL’S SHINGLE 
(A Solo Crankshaft Adventure) An up and coming Blues musician is murdered in the middle of a set. Was it murder or a curse? To solve the crime, Crankshaft may have to beat the Devil. 

CAN AN EX-BAGMAN FROM THE MOB SAVE THE CITY?
CAN THE KING OF THIEVES DEFIES THE CITY TO SAVE IT?
BEAT THE ODDS WITH THIS LATEST BAGMAN ADVENTURE!







 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If You Miss BLACK FRIDAY FESTIVITIES at BEYOND THE LIMIT, the Terrorists Win!

Author B.C. Bell (Tales of The Bagman, Bipolar Express) and Joe Bonadonna (Mad Shadows, Waters of Darkness, Three Against the Stars) will be signing books at BEYOND THE LIMIT'S BLACK FRIDAY FESTIVITIES! Live Lit, Live Music! Big Sales, Ten Dollar Band T-Shirts, Hoodies, CD's, Collectibles, Smokers stuff, and row upon row of pure coolness. Joe and I are bound to be telling stories, and discussing music and movies, while raucous mayhem ensues all around us!  

Black Friday Festivities at Beyond the Limit 7316 W. Irving Park Rd. Norridge, IL 60706.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Max Brand: The Most Famous Meeting of a Pulp Writer and Editor

When Frederick Faust (Max Brand) met Robert H. Davis, chief executive of the Munsey Publishing empire in 1917. The legend goes like this:

"Davis prided himself on being able to spot a comer (he had purchased some of Joseph Conrad's early work, and is credited with discovering O. Henry; this is dubious, however, as Arthur Grissom, Smart Set's first editor, purchased O. Henry's first four stories, which were reputed to have been rejected by every magazine in the country).

Editor Davis gave Faust the outline of a plot and told him to go down the hall where there was a small room with a typewriter, and build a story from it. Faust cranked out a 7800-word story and returned same to Davis within two hours. Davis, amazed at Faust's speed, asked where he had learned to write.

'Down the hall,' was Faust's reply. The story was published in the March, 1917 All Story Weekly without a change."

--The Pulp Western, by John A. Dinan


Max Brand was to write roughly a novel a month for the next twenty years.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who's Paul Cain? Hard Boiled, Harder


  “Fast One [is] some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner.”
--Raymond Chandler

The good people at Pro Se Productions recently published my novella SOMETIMES THEY PAY IN BULLETS, a tribute to Paul Cain, in their spectacularly villainous BLACK FEDORA ANTHOLOGY—which I assure you is not to be missed. It’s a collection of three very different stories, but from the villain’s point of view. Something for everyone…evil! But, several reviews I’ve seen have said, “I don’t know who Paul Cain is…” Honestly, I didn’t expect you to. But if you like Hardboiled Pulp, you should.
Most of my hardboiled friends know who Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain are. They were the lead writers of Black Mask Magazine, and America’s, Hardboiled Mystery movement. A sharp, staccato style of dialogue, action, and description pioneered by Black Mask’s editor, Cap Shaw. A world where paragraphs ended with colons before the dialogue and compound sentences were considered too complicated.
A few of my hardboiled friends are aware of Black Mask’s other fantastic stable of writers. Raoul Whitfield, Frederick Nebel, Earl Stanley Gardner, Norbert Davis and a host of others. Aces all.
 But a few years back, I remember stumbling across the quote at the beginning of this article, and asking myself the same thing. “Who is this guy?” Didn’t take long for me to find ragged old copies of the only two books Cain’s name would ever appear on, SEVEN SLAYERS and FAST ONE. Needless to say I was immediately blown away. It was like Hammett on steroids. There were no “good guys,” and just from the writing I could tell this guy knew a lot about gambling, crime, and a lifestyle a little more extreme than his average reader of the time.

“There was a man sitting one of the benches at one side of the narrow breakfast table. The table was set lengthwise into niche, with a bench at each side, and the man on one of the benches was sitting with his back in the corner of the niche, his knees drawn up, his feet on the outside end of the bench. His head was back against the wall and his eyes and mouth were open. There was a thin knife handle sticking out of one side of his throat.”
                                                --Parlor Trick by Paul Cain
Action verbs aside, if you have any doubts at all, I highly suggest you check out the short story “Parlor Trick.” It’s barely a story, almost more of a milieu. By the seventh paragraph there’s a guy with a knife in his neck sitting across the table from you, and you don’t know how it got there. Not only is this a great story from the crime genre point of view, but when you realize the biggest conflict involves the unspoken threat of “being taken for a ride,” it becomes distinctly American. I’m not sure somebody from another culture would understand the tension in the least, but for me it’s etched on every page with a dagger.
Paul Cain was the pen-name of writer Peter Ruric, whose real name might have been George Sims, but nobody seems to know for sure. FAST ONE and all the stories in SEVEN SLAYERS were published in Black Mask Magazine form originally, just like The Maltese Falcon. When Cap Shaw left the magazine, so did Cain. He appeared later as a screenwriter, then there are some family problems and alcohol, and he disappears again. He’s sighted around Spain or Belize the last I read, but I don’t think anybody really knows anything for sure. If nothing else, he should go down in history as the man who gave world famous actress Myrna Loy (The Thin Man) her stage name. Needless to say, there is more to this writer than meets the immediate eye.
Which is where FAST ONE comes in.
FAST ONE’s protagonist (he’s certainly no hero) is a guy named Kells. And to the best of my knowledge he’s the earliest precursor to all those Jim Thompson/Charles Willeford sociopaths yet to come. He’s not evil, but the man has no conscience at all. You aim at him, his plan is to already be aiming at you—and if he has to kill you, he’ll do it without remorse. From the first paragraph, Kells is getting framed and up against everybody involved in a town full of gangsters and graft. If he wasn’t ruthless he wouldn’t make it ten pages.
Take a note card—I got it the first time around, but maybe because somebody had told me to take a note card. It’s not that it’s horribly complicated. It’s just that you’re liable to get so tied up in the moment you’ll forget the moment before. The style is starker, more staccato, and filled with a 1920’s bleakness I’ve seen nowhere else. Again, the gambling, the highjackings, and especially Kell’s opium addicted buddy, all ring with realism other authors of the time lack. Methinks ol’ Paul knew just a little bit too much about this stuff in real life.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I love Paul Cain’s work. There is just not enough of it, which is why I think he remains largely forgotten today. That’s why I wrote SOMETIMES THEY PAY IN BULLETS. I wanted to make more readers aware of Paul Cain, and I wanted to have some FAST ONE type fun. The protagonist is named Keller, and the story begins in a situation much like FAST ONE. Then a whole different version of hell breaks loose—my subconscious—and it becomes an even more sardonic, twisted tale.
Yes, I wrote it in Cain’s style. Not as easy as it looks. I had to not only avoid plagiarizing, but alter my own style of description back to that of a 1920’s con man, pulp writer, movie-industry type.  In tribute to Cain, I did steal a piece of his original dialogue, “You want a glass or a funnel?” It’s solid gold, and I’ve never seen it used anywhere else.
So, “Who’s Paul Cain?”
He’s the guy who made hardboiled harder. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Now Available! The Bagman VS. The World's Fair!




THE BATTLING BAGMAN
Airship 27 Productions is delighted to announce the release of its latest pulp title, THE BAGMAN vs THE WORLD’S FAIR by B.C. Bell.

It is the summer of 1933 and the Windy City is hosting the fabulous World’s Fair. The famous Navy Pier along the shores of Lake Michigan is invaded by thousands of tourists from around the nation and the world; all there to marvel at the newest scientific advancements on display.
But within this glittering pleasure park of wonder lurks a devilish fiend set upon causing mass destruction and ruining the Fair; a scientist turned mad employing a bizarre sonic cannon to commit murder and chaos amongst the innocent throngs.  Now it will be up to the unlikeliest hero of them all, the odd, notorious Bagman, to save the day.

Writer B.C. Bell sends his one time petty crook, Frank “Mac” McCullough back into action in this, the Bagman’s first full length adventure.  Along with his loyal buddy, the ace mechanic, Crankshaft, Chicago’s most unusual mystery man must find the lunatic inventor and put an end to his heinous attacks before more people will die.

“The first time I read a Chris Bell Bagman story, I actually chuckled aloud,” says Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor Ron Fortier.  “Bell’s ability to combine both fast paced, pure pulp action with slapstick humor is sheer genius. The Bagman is one of the most original of the new pulp heroes we have today.  His fans will not be disappointed with this new, longer adventure.”
The book features nine interiors illustrations by Andy Fish and sports a truly colorful painting by Laura Givens with book designs by Rob Davis.  As an added bonus, the story also features a very special cameo by Canadian writer Calvin Daniels’ own new pulp hero, the Black Wolf.
So slap another clip in your .45, straighten your tie and put that bag over your head, pulp fans; here comes the Bagman, delivering justice in his own peculiar way.
 
AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – Pulp Fiction for a New Generation!
Available now from Amazon & on Kindle.
(http://www.amazon.com/Bagman-Vs-Worlds-Fair-Tales/dp/0615875629/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377547151&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Bagman+vs+The+World%27s+Fair)

(And don't worry, kids. Weekly blogging is coming back, too! There's going to be a little more action around here, promise.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dan Fowler G-Man Vol. 2: Machine Gun Ettiquette for the 21st Century!






THE ACE G-MAN RETURNS!

Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce their fifth release of the year; DAN FOWLER G-Man Vol II.  Volume One was published two years ago and well received by pulp fans warranting a second foray into the world of this classic tough guy federal agent.

One of the greatest pulp heroes of old returns in four gun-blazing new adventures.  Dan Fowler, ace investigator for the FBI, is back action, this time facing off against quartet of deadly villains; from a hideous monkey faced gang boss to avenging the murder of an uncover agent.  Along the way he’ll team up with a colorful assortment of allies from a sexy jewel thief to the none other than Jim Anthony, the Super Detective.

Writers Derrick Ferguson, Aaron Smith, Joshua Reynolds and B.C. Bell have whipped up four of the most fast paced, nail biting crime thrillers ever to grace any pulp collection.  Dan Fowler is an iconic pulp hero who, during the course of his original series, battled criminals and outlaws from rural hick bootleggers to the organized syndicates of New York and Chicago.

“Dan Fowler was by far one of the most successful classic pulp characters ever created,” declares Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.  “If you start talking about any kind of crime fighting series, pulp fans will immediately bring up his name. It is synonymous with this particular genre of pulps. He was pretty much the Dick Tracy of the pulps. Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to be bringing him back into the spotlight of new pulp fiction with these original thrill-a-minutes tales.”

Wrapped up by a gorgeous cover from Brian McCulloch and featuring wonderful black and white interior illustrations by Neil T. Foster, DAN FOWLER G-MAN Vol II was designed by Rob Davis and edited by Ron Fortier.  So move over Elliot Ness and Melvin Purvis, here comes the great G-Man of them all, DAN FOWLER!!!

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!

Now on sale at Amazon.com -
(http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Fowler-G-Man-Volume-Two/dp/0615820239/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1368895268&sr=8-3-fkmr0&keywords=Dan+Fowler+G-Man+Vol.+2)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bipolar Express Chapter 22


Jack's dead, could things possibly get any worse?                                                Of Course.

Chapter 22

            Luckily for Frosty, we didn’t have to test Wes’s theories on the intricacies of marksmanship. Fact was, by the time I looked out the door you couldn’t even see where Frosty had gone. The sun hid behind clouds, and the smoke escaped from behind us mixing with the charcoal shades of the sky outside.
            Wes stood stationed inside the door, holding it open with his shoulder as he scanned the alley with the rifle’s barrel. The cold wind numbed my fingers in front of me as the snap, crackle and pop of the fire melted my backside. I turned around and by the time my back cooled off, my hands were burning. So I just kept turning, slowly, in complete revolutions to even out the temperature like a hot dog on a spit. As much as I hated slowly roasting, I hated the idea of going back out into the cold even more.
            Just as the gray outside got grayer, something behind us went from pop to POP!  And a wave of hot air blasted the back of my head. I sped up my rotation to see what had caused it. The scattered fires had gradually turned into a mass of flame that was ballooning out in big black bubbles, and the big black bubbles burst into shredded blisters of toxic looking solids. It was like somebody was pumping acetylene into garbage bags till they popped, and the melting remains wafted through the air aimed at our heads. The parts that didn’t stick to you, glazed up into your sinuses.
Before we had to decide between being shot or caramelized, Frosty pulled up in a pickup truck with the engine running—a little, Korean oil-burner with big tires and exhaust that colored the whole alley purple. I exhaled smoke and inhaled wonderfully noxious gas fumes.
“It was in the underground parking lot, still warm,” Frosty said. “Tank’s almost full, batteries seem to be charging.” He looked comfortable with his knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel.
“Anybody else around?” Wes asked.
“Nothing but tire tracks. They must’ve yanked the keys thinking that would stop us.” Frosty smiled.
            “How the hell you get it started?” I said, holding myself up with the door.
“Hotwired it.” Frosty smiled even wider. Fucker.
            Wes threw everything in back while I struggled to get into the cab.
“Nice wheels,” I admitted. “I’ll take the middle, but the dog’s coming with us.”
            “Won’t even let the dog have the bitch seat,” Frosty said, revving the engine. “You are one cold bastard.”
            “Damn right.” I finally put on my gloves, already shivering and still sweating. “This thing got heat?”
            “Oh yeah.”
            I was going to catch cold.
            Wes picked up the sled full of booze that he’d whopped Jack’s Aryan shooter with and threw it in back of the truck. I whistled and Thing climbed onto the seat. It took Wes and me both to shove her onto the floor, but I gave her a jerky treat.
            “We got one problem,” Frosty said.
            “If we only had one problem, we wouldn’t be here.” My head collapsed back on the seat.
            “I mean, where the hell are we going?”
            “Art Institute,” Wes answered, as if nothing had ever happened.
            Not such a crazy idea. We might actually run into Jack’s brother.
            “Yeah, Art Institute,” I said, like Frosty should’ve known all along, “Duh.”
            We took Broadway, when we could, and switched to the side streets when we had to. Even with monster wheels we still had to drive slow, steering around abandoned cars and trying to keep from skidding.
            I thought about getting pulled over. How the hell would we know who was in charge? What were the laws? Real cops used to frown on things like driving around with a stolen truck full of guns, and I was willing to bet Frosty didn’t have a license. Wes popped a cork and immediately violated the open container law.
            I had a feeling he wasn’t going to just toss out the wine if I asked him to, so I decided not to worry about the guns. We were headed for The Loop.
            In case you’ve never been to Chicago, The Loop is the center of the city. It’s where uptown meets downtown; the North Side meets the South Side; the tourists meet the panhandlers, and the jewel dealers meet the homeless. The Ravenswood Brown Line elevated train surrounds almost two square miles of the heart of the city and from that loop of track you can get to the lakefront, numerous museums and theaters, fancy retail shops, City Hall, the Chicago Board of Trade and about a million bars, clubs, restaurants and liquor stores. Michigan Avenue and State Street that great street. Rent is high and life is cheap, and on a good day—if you wear the right clothes—you can walk around and pretend you’re one of the chosen.
            At least that’s how it used to be.
            When we hit the tracks at Clark and Lake, Frosty slammed on the brakes, and I stopped worrying about the cops.
            Those guys back at the store who’d called this The New Ice Age? They must have seen The Loop.
            The ice hanging from the El tracks had just looked like more blurry scenery before. Now it looked like a different planet. Huge, stalactite icicles—some bigger around than the truck we were in—hung down from the tracks, framing the entire center of the city like the walls of an arctic fortress built forty-feet in the air. Above us it was white and sleek, almost glowing, with the gray skies framing it from behind.
            For a moment it was stunning, damnright awe-inspiring. An ice sculpture fantasy landscape right out of a Feature Mediacom Production. You know, the scene where mere earthlings tread into some brave new world and become tiny pinpricks, while the view pans out and beyond, to show you how small they’ve become.
            Back on earth, though, this was still supposed to be Chicago. And it not only made you feel small, it made you feel empty. Even the vast expanse of the plains can make you feel small, but if you ever really want to feel of no consequence whatsoever, go to what was once the biggest life force you’ve ever witnessed, to a place that used to make you feel of no consequence—and take a long look at it when it’s devoid of the living. Remember the lifeblood. Remember the resentment you had. Then feel the inside of its cold, empty, dead heart. Without people there’s no context. No feeling. Just the emptiness.
            At ground level it was gray and black. The railway’s vertical support beams had transformed into metal-cored shafts of ice. Iron icicles descended into frozen, polluted, mud puddles. Snowdrifts were soiled with tar and tire tracks. The buildings and rails cut through even the brightest gray—and three tiny little earthlings stared into the caverns at the glacier’s edge.
            Nobody said anything for a long time. We all just sat there and stared at it. Finally, Thing made a whining sound and we all looked at one another.
            “Go,” Wes said, and Frosty hit the gas.
            The icicles hanging overhead waited patiently deciding whether or not to crush us as the truck bounced under the tracks. Once inside, the shafts of ice seemed to shoot up from the ground like the bars of a cage. 
            The place was a wreck. Unlike the North Side, it looked like there had been a riot. Store fronts had been broken into. Cartons were broken open in the street. Snow banks in the alleys tried to soften the brick edges of buildings that had once stood like proud monuments to the corporate culture of the world. But a single frozen human leg stuck out of a slush-pile and ruined the effect. Every iced-covered hill was a potential burial mound.
            Wes and Frosty had gotten out with the dog to look around when I suddenly realized it wasn’t dusk; it was morning. I’d stayed in that bathroom, freezing my ass off, all night. I stayed in the truck and nursed my leg, loosening and tightening the tourniquet. It was still bleeding. I couldn’t see the wound through the overalls, but it looked like the bullet had gone completely through. Now that I had time to think about it, it hurt. 
            We stayed on Clark Street for awhile, slowly climbing back and forth down the street. The ice hanging on the tracks over Wabash closed off entire city blocks, creating a wall that sometimes broke into the opaque bars of a prison. Nobody said a word, purposely ignoring the possibility that we might be trapped. The frozen barrier kept paralleling our trail.
            We dug through the terrain for about an hour, hoping we’d find a gate at Jefferson, the south wall. We didn’t. We pitched and moaned inside the cab for another half-hour, backtracking to Washington before we found an exit two blocks west.
            We stopped and stared some more.
            Frosty hit the gas.
            Even then, we still had to circle around the outside of the frozen walls, back up Michigan Avenue. We’d known all along any road by the lakeshore was going to be layered with ice, and it was. So was the lake. Frozen.
            Headed back towards Jefferson again, Frosty vowed to kill any future president who had the balls to name a street after himself.
            Finally, we pulled up across the street from The Art Institute. We were early.
            We waited.
            Nobody ever showed.
            “Ya wanna try breakin’ in?”
            “Wes, I don’t think we could get into The Art Institute on a day they were open.”
            Frosty laughed. “You guys don’t get out a lot, do you?”
            “What now?” I said; my new catch phrase.
            “I don’t know…” Frosty revved the engine. “This is why we can’t have nice things. I can’t take you boys anywhere.” I think he was imitating his wife, or his mom or something. He kept going on until Wes interrupted him.
            “Get out of town. No, wait. Find a place to go to the bathroom and then get out of town.” It was angry, but still matter of fact, resigned. Dissociated.
            “I’m in,” I said.
            “Let’s do it then. South?” Frosty revved the engine.
            “Bathroom first.” Wes pointed to an Arby’s down the street. I think we’d all had our fill of pissing out in the cold.
“Hold it,” I said. There was a Visionwear Optical store next door, and I was still looking through one cracked lens. It was the only place on the street that hadn’t been broken into. I might not have been the first one on my block, but I definitely wanted to keep up with the Jones’s. I limped on over to the store with the dog.
            It was the first time I had ever broken into a place by simply smashing the window. With my luck I figured a cop would pull up and bust me as soon as I broke it.  I emptied the shotgun into the glass and kicked the splintered remains out of the way. It felt pretty good. It also wound up being the only time I ever wore three-hundred-dollar eyeglasses. Sport frames, too.
I had to hop on one leg to get behind the counter, and started to just grab an armful of optics and run. Then I realized I didn’t have to. My luck had finally changed. Never mind that I probably couldn’t run anyway.
Sure enough, they were right on top of the pile with the prescription written under the name: Ackles, Leslie, 20-40. Leslie turned out to be a guy, which was good, because even with no one around I didn’t want to look too fruity. And unless GQ had gone and made guns a fashion accessory, they were the most expensive part of my wardrobe.
Even covered in blood, mud and soot, I still looked like Buddy Holly in the damn things. For a second I thought about how Jack and I were probably the only people on the planet that still knew who Buddy Holly was. Then I remembered it was just me. My brain was getting all foggy.  
I followed Wes’s trail into Arby’s, took a piss and then ran back to the truck so Frosty could go. He and Wes came out with a bag of those mutant, roast beef burgers and woke me up. I had no idea how long we’d been there.
We headed back down Wabash for the Dan Ryan Expressway doing about ten miles and hour. Other than “South” and “out of the city,” I don’t think we cared where we were headed.
“Oh, man! We forgot the sauce,” Frosty yelled. I woke up again.
“Horseradish or barbecue?” Wes said.
Everybody looked at each other, except for the dog who was eyeing the bag of mutant meat.
“It’s not really barbecue sauce,” I said, coming out of it. “Hell, it’s not even real meat. I mean, I like the stuff and all, but it’s not really roast beef. It’s more like an alien kind of—“
“It doesn’t matter!” Frosty said. “We forgot the sauce!” We were flying down the road at about 18 mph.
“I got Horseradish,” Wes said.
“Shit, I wanted the barbecue—”
Then the truck ran into a wall of Jell-O.
You couldn’t see it, but that’s what it felt like. Frosty’s head almost bounced off the steering wheel, the sandwich squishing in his palm as he tried to grab the steering wheel with both hands. Everything in the cab rocked forward and the truck congealed to a stop about five yards later. The engine clicked and whirred. Everything stuttered while Frosty pumped the pedal, but the thing just died. Wes pulled his smashed hand out of the glove compartment where he’d been stashing the burgers. The lights went out, and every meter on the dash went to zero. The truck sat wedged in a piece of solid air.
            The three of us started playing with the dashboard, and yelling every obscure rumor we’d ever heard about the workings of the internal combustion engine.
“Outta gas?” Wes yelled. “How the hell can we be outta gas? Damn thing had a full tank.”
            “It’s not the gas, it’s the batteries. Or the battery,” Frosty said, remembering how old the truck was.
            “Batteries don’t just die in mid-flight,” I said.
            I turned on the radio, and heard something outside the truck go Kschischk-Shuk. I hit the off-on button one more time, praying the sound had come from the speakers. But I knew it hadn’t.
It’s a hard, dry, but efficiently mechanical sound that’s somehow both smooth and rough at the same time. I hate that sound.
            Kschischk-Shuk. I heard it two or three more times before I looked out and saw maybe a dozen armed men in black Kevlar, all standing in an arc around the front of the truck. Some of them had on helmets and had taken cover behind the junked cars and brick buildings on the edge of the alley in front of us. Most of them hadn’t even bothered to do that. They were wearing ski-masks like terrorists or something, but I could tell some of them were smiling.
            I reached for a pistol.
Kschischk-Shuk. 
The man in black directly in front of us pumped a twelve-gauge shotgun, one-handed, demonstratively holding it up in the air, and then pointed it at the middle of the windshield. A few more of them cocked various rifles, pistols, and semi-automatic weapons just for our benefit.  
            I opened the door and stuck my empty hands out into the cold.