Mitch Cole had been doing stand-up comedy in seedy bars for the better part of 20 years. Tonight he was performing at The Sandbox, a nightclub that had at one time hosted comedians like Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, even Richard Pryor.
Today, The Sandbox bared little resemblance to the hotspot it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s; and for Mitch, on the downward slide of a career that started at the bottom and never looked up, this was his last month at the once legendary club.
Burdett Wallace, the cheat who owned The Sand box, had “big plans” that didn’t include comedy. “Hookers and strippers Mitch, that’s the future.” He said.
The crowd was small, but lively, and Mitch was in the middle of one of his best jokes. “So, this mallard walks into a doctor’s office carrying an antique fountain pen and some wind chimes, and—”
Four masked gunmen, clad in red, green, blue, and orange ski masks, burst into the club just as Mitch was about to deliver his big punchline. The one wearing the orange mask, jumped up onto the tiny stage, put a pistol to Mitch’s head and told him to “Shut the fuck up!”
In a very genial voice, the guy in the red mask said, “Ladies and gentleman, place your cell phones into the container that my associate is bringing around. If you do not, we’ll have to shoot you, and I really don’t want to do that.”
Mitch stood ramrod still on the stage, hoping not to get shot. “Hey I know you,” the gunman in orange said. “Saw you back in ’98 in the Poconos. I thought you’d be in the big times by now.”
‘Figures a fan of mine would be a lowlife like this guy.’ Mitch thought.
“You still tell that joke, the one about the mallard walking into the doctor’s office with a—” Orange began laughing, and had to catch his breath. “—he had some wind chimes and a fountain pen. That one killed me every time. Too bad you have to do shows in a dump like this.”
Noise from the rear of the club, mercifully ended the conversation. Burdett Wallace came stumbling out, followed by the gunman in the blue mask; the owner’s face was bruised and bloodied.
Red grabbed Wallace by the hair and said, “Old Burdett here is being selfish, my friends. He is willing to risk the lives of all of you, in order to prevent us from getting the money he skimmed off the top of this shitty club. What do you all think about that?”
The crowd, at first sympathetic, now saw Burdett as the reason for their inconvenience. “Give him what he wants!” Someone yelled from the back of the club.
“He has moved the money from the safe, and won’t tell me where it is.”
“I don’t know where it is!” Burdett yelled.
In an instant, Red grabbed Burdy’s girl, a pretty red head from Witoka, Minnesota. Put the gun up to her head and pulled the trigger.
The crowd began screaming, some diving under the tables, others trying to find a way out. Burdett fell to his knees. “I’ll kill you, you fucks! When this is all over I will find you and fucking kill you!” Red calmly lifted his boot, and kicked Burdett in the face; the man fell to the floor, unconscious.
Red shot his pistol in the air to regain control. “Quiet folks, no need to panic.” But Red could feel the wheels coming off.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Red said to the crowd, “But I don’t like people lying to me, and Burdy here is a liar.” He said, pointing to where Burdett was still out cold on the floor.
“What do we do now boss?” Orange asked.
“I don’t fuckin’ know.” Red shrugged
When Mitch fell to the floor, clutching his chest, Red just knew the night was a bust. Mitch looked at Orange and asked, “Could I please go to my locker and get my pills, I’ve got a heart condition?” Mitch thought he’d appeal to the man who seemed to enjoy his comedy.
Orange glanced at Red, who sighed and said, “Might as well.”
Mitch led Orange to the closet-like dressing room in back, and began searching inside a duffle bag. Orange sat down and put his feet up on the table. “Lemmie ask you somethin’. Why you playin’ a shit hole like this?”
Mitch smiled. “Not many opportunities for a comic my age, I’m afraid.”
“Hey,” Mitch said, “Why don’t I tell you that joke you like so much.” Orange waved Mitch off. “Come on I didn’t get to finish it before you fellas came stormin’ in, it’s my biggest joke of the night.”
“Fine.” Orange said. “It is my favorite.”
“So this mallard walks into his doctor’s office—” Mitch began, “—Carrying this antique fountain pen, and some wind chimes…”
Orange was so caught up in the joke, that he didn’t see Mitch pull the knife out of the duffle bag, he was still smiling when Mitch pushed the blade deep into the soft flesh of Orange’s belly.
Mitch thought life had kicked him in the nuts yet again when the gunmen showed up, but things actually looked promising. He’d already taken the money out of Burdett’s safe, while the old fool was in his upstairs apartment with the now deceased red head.
Mitch left through the emergency door, the one that cheapskate Burdett never bothered to fix.
“Hello operator, I’d like to report a robbery at The Sandbox on 9th street downtown. I saw at least 4 gunmen wearing masks enter the building just a few minutes ago.”
Mitch hung up, and drove away from The Sandbox for the last time. “I hear they’re looking for opening acts at The Improv in Chicago.” Mitch smiled, “I believe things are finally lookin’ up for me.”