Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - The VIP Club by Sheldon Woodbury
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An old man is offered entry into a bizarre club in this macabre tale from author Sheldon Woodbury.

The VIP Club

Morgan Malone gazed glumly out at the cavernous room filled with wrinkled old men who had millions to burn.

It was the most prestigious club in New York City, a Fifth Avenue sanctuary of polished dark wood and creamy brown leather. On any given night, it was the go to place for the biggest titans of industry and kings of capitalism. If the martinis and whisky were poisoned, the stock market would probably crash four-hundred points.

"What's wrong?" Harold asked. "You look so bored."

Harold was his oldest friend. They'd been gung-ho roommates at Harvard Business School together, then they'd both climbed the corporate ladder to its uppermost heights.

"Everything okay at home?"

Morgan shrugged. Like most long marriages, his had fallen into a humdrum routine, the fireworks long gone.

"How about work? You're still the big badass at your company?"

Morgan took the last sip of his ice cold martini, then nodded for another. A white coated waiter instantly appeared and whisked the empty glass away without making a sound. The waiters were like immaculately dressed ghosts, appearing and disappearing in the dimly lit room.

"I've decided to slash and burn our workforce by ten percent, but I'm betting the board will give me an even bigger bonus this year."

Harold gave him a wink. That's why they were friends.

From the very beginning, they'd both understood how the corporate game was played. It was all about clawing and scratching your way to the top, win at any cost, because that's how you got all the millionaire toys. They shared their dirty little secrets together, confessing their business sins.

"Then I'd say you need a hobby, my friend."

His freshly poured martini appeared, the crystal glass gleaming softly in the light. "I guess this is the only hobby I have left..."

Morgan took a deep sip, then stared outside through the massive room windows. The streetlights had flashed on and the masses were stumbling home like a twilight horde.

It was a world he'd lost contact with a long time ago. Other people had become like shadows to him, little more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Harold pulled out his Gucci wallet, fished out a card tucked inside, dropped it on the dark walnut table.

"What's that?" Morgan asked.

"It's another club I belong to, but you can only get in by referral. It's even more exclusive, very hush-hush."

Morgan looked at the card, holding it up in the dimlight. THE VIP CLUB was scrawled in ink on one side like a child had written it, along with a phone number. It wasn't anything like the fancy business cards he was used to.

Harold leaned forward, lowered his voice. "Call the number. I think it's just what you need to lift your spirits."

"What kind of club is it? I belong to too damn many already."

Harold pushed himself up from his leather chair. Theywere both past sixty and slowing down.

"Sorry, old sport, but I have to run..." Morgan watched his friend stroll slowly away, weaving through the smoke and the dewy martini glasses, finally disappearing through the colossal doors. He slipped the card in his wallet, then turned to the massive windows again, staring at the staggering masses outside.

A week had passed before he'd thought about the card still stashed in his wallet.

He'd just returned from presenting his proposal to the board about the drastic employee cuts. He'd long ago stopped worrying how his cut throat decisions affected others. He wasn't paid the big bucks to be a charity.

He stood up and walked to the windows. His sprawling office was on the top floor of a monolithic steel and glass tower, looking closer to the clouds than anything below.

He remembered that Harold had said the new club would lift his spirits. That much, at least, intrigued him. He'd been fighting a dark mood for almost a year, not knowing what it was. He strolled back to his desk, dialed the number.

It rang for a short time without an answer.

"The VIP Club," a voice finally croaked. The voice wasn't what he'd expected at all, very different from the deferential tone he was used to.

"I was given this number by a friend. Could you tell me what kind of club this is?"

There was a snorting laugh on the other end, like a pig or some other kind of animal. This was a surprise too, almost a shock, because a man of his position was never laughed at.

"No can do, buckaroo. But if you meet me at the McMurphy Saloon on Bowery and Broome at ten tonight, I'll fill you in. I'll be the handsome bloke with the black cane."

Then the phone went dead.

His surprise at the surly voice and the odd request where to meet stayed with him for the rest of the day. But Harold had never steered him wrong before, and his desire to rid himself of the dark mood sealed his decision.

His wife was at one of her stupid benefits, clattering away with all the other society parasites, so it was just a matter of telling his driver to pick him up.

When he strolled out of his Park Avenue building, his black Bentley limousine was waiting at the curb. He nodded to his driver, slipped inside, wondering how the night traffic downtown would be.

The trip took less than thirty minutes, but the transition was stark, taking him from the fortress like buildings on Park Avenue all the way down to the grimy bowels of the Bowery.

When his limo pulled up in front of the grubby looking bar, he had second thoughts about going inside. This wasn't like him at all. He was a man of careful calculation, not one to ever do anything sudden or rash.

He wondered if this was a practical joke, or if Harold was throwing him a surprise party. He saw other limousines lined up nearby, all jet-black and sleek, idling in the shadows away from the streetlights.

"Wait for me here," he muttered, pushing open the door.

He wouldn't have thought it possible, but inside the bar was even more dirty and grimy, a booze soaked dump.When he shuffled in, he drew only a few curious stares from the local bikers and other scruffy drunks at the bar.

Then he heard something tapping on the floor.

A short pudgy man with long stringy hair was hunched at a table against the wall. He was dressed in a cheap black suit and a shiny red tie, tapping an expensive looking black cane on the filthy wood floor.

Morgan walked over.

"Sir, my name is..."

The short man quickly cut him off.

"Let's just stop it right there. No names, okay. You got my number, that's all I need to know. Grab a seat, we'll get right to business."

Morgan settled into the other chair at the table, but he was starting to feel that he should just get up and leave right away. This was clearly a joke and he didn't have the patience to see it played out.

"Here's the terms for membership," the short man croaked. "You send me fifty grand the first day of every month."

"Excuse me..." Morgan muttered.

"But if you're a dollar short, or a day late, you're out of the club."

Morgan stood back up, because now he knew he never should have come. This wasn't like him at all.

"C'mon, buckaroo. You haven't even asked what the club is yet."

"Okay, what is it?" he huffed.

"It's a service we provide for people like you..."

And then it happened, quick as a flash.

An argument at the bar suddenly erupted into a fight,clenched fists flying, bodies hurtling into each other, but that was just the beginning. Knives were yanked out, glasses and bottles smashed into weapons, and now it was nothing short of a slashing massacre, mutilated bodies quickly sagging down to the dirty wood floor.

Morgan slammed his chair back against the wall andstared in wide-eyed shock. He'd never been this close to such horrific violence. His coal grey slacks and starched white shirt were spotted with blood.

Then it was over as suddenly as it began.

For a few seconds, the blood-splattered room was utterly silent and still, then came the soft scraping of shoes on the floor. Other people began to appear, striding out of the hazy shadows at the back of the room.

It was another shock, as Morgan realized he recognized all the faces. They were all business titans like him, super rich old men who'd clawed their way to the top of the corporate mountain. Harold was with them, giving him a silent nod and a wink. They stepped over the dead bodies without saying a word, walked quietly across the bloody wood floor, then strolled outside to their waiting limousines.

Morgan was too stunned to move, until he realized his dark mood was finally slipping away, and something brand new was taking its place.

The strange little man tapped him on the shoulder with his black cane.

"Let's face it buckaroo, you've done well by yourself,so you deserve to have some perks not available to the average Joe. That's what The VIP Club is all about."

Over the next several months, Morgan saw in brutal, gushing red exactly what those perks were.

A phone call could come at any time, telling him where to go and what time to be there. He'd have his Bentley limo drop him off and park a short distance away with the other waiting limousines.

Then, at the designated place, which could be anywhere in the city, he'd wait unobtrusively with the other club members. They never acknowledged each other, or exchanged any kind of communication. They just stood together staring straight ahead. It was something like church, where you waited quietly for the ritual to begin.

His first meeting as an official club member was on the Upper West Side, where a head-on collision between a yellow church bus and a gas truck created a volcanic bonfire of roasted metal and burning flesh right in front of him.

His next meeting was at a sandlot field where a crazed madman opened fire on middle-aged men playing baseball, gunning them down in a flaying firestorm of bullets.

Each meeting was different, but they were all sudden eruptions of torture and death, played out in gushing red. As a member of The VIP club, you were always guaranteed early notification and a front row seat.

After a few months, his dark mood had been pushed away so forcefully, he was amazed at the result. Before he'd trudged through every day with a dull mysterious ache, but now all that was gone, and he felt a welcome new kind of exhilaration.

His wife had been in the hospital for the past two weeks when he met Harold again at their midtown club. Their drinks had just arrived and been placed on the dark walnut table in front of them. Outside, the twilight horde was stumbling home.

"Any improvement?" Harold asked.

Morgan shook his head. "It's those damn cigarettes. Without the oxygen she can't even breathe."

They sat for a moment, sipping their ice cold martinis, as the ghost like waiters floated through the room.

"I never thanked you for your referral to The VIP Club."

"No thanks needed."

"I just sometimes wonder if it's going too far..."

Harold smiled, gave him a wink.

"C'mon old sport, look around the room. Tell me what you see..."

Morgan gazed out at the cavernous room filled with polished dark wood and creamy brown leather. He often thought it looked like a place where millionaires went to die.

"I see a bunch of rich old men..."

Harold chuckled, took another sip of his drink.

"That's where you're wrong, old sport. They wouldn't be here if they weren't fighters, killers, and hunters. In the old days, they all would have been great warriors and conquerors, but what's missing today is the primal pleasure of seeing what you've killed die in front of you..."

Morgan took this in for only a few seconds, because he realized his friend was right, and that's what had been missing from his life.

He knew he'd always been a fighter and a killer, because that's how he'd clawed his way to the top of the corporate mountain. But in these modern times, the battlefield was a spreadsheet, and the vanquished were little more than shadows. All his fights had been cerebral and bloodless, but he'd always secretly wanted much more.

That's the service The VIP Club was providing.

Harold leaned forward.

"The Roman emperors got it right. They built giant coliseums so they could watch the weak get eaten by lions."

His wife had gotten worse, so he'd been spending all his free time at the hospital, when the call came. At first, he thought about missing a VIP Club meeting for the very first time, but decided he needed a break, and it wasn't very far.

His limo dropped him off at the edge of a small park, then he walked a short distance to the designated spot, a large oak tree with a bushy canopy of leaves.

It was a dark night, no moon or stars, so he felt a touch of disappointment that visibility would be poor. It was always more thrilling when you could see every detail of anguish and pain as the ritualistic massacre played out.

He glanced around, surprised that none of the other club members were here. He wondered if he'd made a mistake about the location, but was sure he hadn't.

Then he heard a sound in the gloomy night silence, something tapping sharply on wood. The strange little man with the black cane stepped out from behind the giant oak tree.

"Glad you could make it, buckaroo. You and me have some business to settle."

"Where are the others?"

He tossed the black cane in the air, caught it with his other pudgy small hand.

"Don't worry about them. I didn't get your dues thismonth. That's a problem."

The instant he heard it, Morgan knew it was true. He'd been putting in longer days at work because of the restructuring, then spending his nights at the hospital, so things had been falling through the cracks.

"Yes, of course, you're right. You'll have it first thing in the morning. My mistake."

The short man walked over, shaking his head. "But that's not the way it works, buckaroo..."

"What do you mean?"

Then it happened, quick as a flash. The strange little man yanked his black cane apart, revealing a small sword hidden inside. His swipes and cuts came with a surgical precision, slicing through his expensive clothes, bringing out the blood in streams and spurts.

Morgan feel to his knees, then crumbled to the ground,knowing he was about to die a horrible death. He'd never been in pain like this before and was shocked at the searing intensity burning through his body.

That's when he saw them come out of the night gloom, strolling silently as a pack back to their waiting limousines. Harold gave him a good-bye nod, then the strange little man raised his gleaming silver sword high overhead and gave him a final stab.

As he closed his eyes to die, Morgan decided not to fight it, but to give in, because he knew none of this was personal, it was just business.

About the Author

Sheldon Woodbury is a writer who lives in New York City. He loves being a part of Popcorn Fiction, both as a reader and as a contributor.