The Button Man and the Murder Tree

by Cherie Priest

Chicago, 1971

Sammy Ricca poured himself a slug the color of old honey, spilling hardly any of it. He lifted the glass to his mouth, and the cheap whiskey rippled as he tapped it with his upper lip, pretending to drink it. He peered through the blurry amber at a tall, lean shadow in a gray suit, and he said, “I heard they were using that old tree again. Word’s getting around.”

“That was the idea,” the button man murmured. And then, “You may as well drink that.”

Sammy threw back a mouthful, as suggested. He shifted his ass so he could sit on the edge of his desk. A pen cracked under his weight, and dark blue ink pooled beneath his thigh. “This isn’t about Angelo.”

“I already know about Angelo.”

“I could tell you—”

“Everything you know, you sang already.” Beside Sammy’s swiftly staining leg sat an ugly Lucite ashtray. It was emblazoned with the logo of a bar that’d burned down years ago. The button man sighed, and wished he had a cigarette.

“Raul, the money wasn’t—”

“I know.”

“I don’t think you do. Before me it was Dragna, and before him, Carlo. What we had in common, it wasn’t just our names on the Murder Tree, it—”

“The Deadman’s Tree. Subtle difference, there.” He withdrew a Colt 45, checked it, and tried not to hear how hard Sammy swallowed. “And it doesn’t matter now, after the mess you made of things.”

“No, I didn’t make a mess. It’s not Angelo. It’s not the money.”

“And it’s not up to me.”

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Original Fiction from • Illustrated by John Picacio