One in Sixty-Four

Sit down, sit down! God almighty don’t look nervous. Glad you made it! You act like this is the first time you’ve seen a bar stool by slot machine. Sit! Sit. And stop looking like a double dose of laxatives just kicked in. There’s no shortage of ass in this glorious house of cash, but you’ll never get any with that look on your face.

You want a cocktail?  Sure you do. You seem like a clear liquor guy. I’ve been in this game since you were a baby, and the biggest mistake you can make is giving bourbon to a vodka man. Total waste. Hey! Hey darl’n! Tiffany, right? Cheryl? Whatever. I need that double vodka you’re holding. It’s not the well shit, is it? No? Good. Yeah, yeah right there. Thanks!

Lord my manners! Do you mind if I put my arm around you? We’re practically pals at this point. Scoot closer. Atta boy. It’s so loud in here. The first time you enter a place like this, the sounds are a train wreck. Bells. Clashes. Cheers. A jazz band. The groans of drunks. The clatter of slot reels. The clanging coins. The thunk of the roulette ball on the roulette wheel. The sounds assault the senses, and there are two ways to escape. Get out, or down a cocktail and become one with the noise.

Hey! Enough gawking at that cocktail waitress. Don’t let that perfect ass and cotton tail fool you.  Nothing to see there but heartbreak and gonorrhea. Eyes on me. Take a drink.

Anyway–Sit here long enough, hour after hour, day after day, decade after decade, and your brain does weird shit. It turns into something like an egg separator, but for sounds. Tell me to close my eyes. Do it. Make sure they’re good and closed. If you catch me peeking, poke ‘em. I can take it. I’ve dealt with worse.

Ok. There’s a machine, three rows back and to the right. It’s a Star Wars themed penny slot. The pulls have been about 40 seconds apart. That’s a patient gambler, there. Someone who just likes to come for the free booze and the company. They pull the lever to fit in. To keep their seat. That’s it. But go back another row, to the left, into that clunky batch of Betty Bop slots?  Whoever has the end seat can’t pull the lever fast enough. That’s a person who doesn’t know the odds. You don’t come into this house without knowing the odds.

Impressed enough? I’ll just open my eyes and–and wow! Holy shit is it bright! I should show you the electric bill. You’d empty your colon, right on that seat. I mean, you might anyway. You see. When you weren’t looking a moment ago I slipped a bonus in your vodka. Clear and tasteless, just like the rest of the poison in that glass. By my count you have a good, oh I’ll say three minutes, before your heart seizes like an old engine.  My magic potion relaxes the bowels, too.

Do me a favor. If you keel over here, die before you shit yourself. It’s more dignified in that order.

That’s if you die. I don’t have lot of patience for peckers like you—not the ones who trample on my daughters.  And the balls on you! Playing both my girls once? What are the chances that happens? What are the chances you walk outta here?

As it happens. Your odds are about one in sixty-four. Go ahead, take a look at the reels in front of you. The jackpot is that picture of Popeye, flexing that juicy bicep of his and giving that signature wink. He’s your chance at mercy. I can sympathize with a man who’s let his cock run his life. I have my own history and kids to prove it.

You’ll hit Popeye once in sixty-four tries. You get one chance. If that spinach guzzling son of a bitch winks at me, you get the potion in my other pocket. The good potion. And no heroics. Every camera in this place, my place, is on you.            

Go on. Your pull.


Payday Friday

He met her the first time at Otto’s. Payday Friday, he wanted to meet her again. A date he’d call it. A short drive from the plant after showering, slap on the bay rum. “Someone’s getting some tonight?” He grinned, blushed. Anders shrugged, a young twenty-five. She wouldn’t expect him.

The wind barreled off Lake Superior, greasing the iron footbridge high over the railroad tracks with ice. A perilous walk to the lot where his Starlight coupe sat. He’d tuned it up just before winter clapped down. She’d get a cozy ride home. Anders was mindful in some respects.

Otto’s, red and yellow neon over the front door, snow ghosts blowing past the streetlights, hunkered down in the chiaroscuro of moonlight, streetlight, snow, and the wooden railroad trestle running out to the harbor and docks.

Anders looked around, pulling off his stocking cap, lined choppers, unzipping the heavy red-and-black plaid jacket. Somebody had plugged the Wurlitzer with coin. Patsy Cline sang “Walkin’ After Midnight.” He looked for Marcella’s Lucille-Ball-red head. In that booth? No.

He ordered a sip and snort from Raymond, slammed home the warming shot. “Say, you seen Marcella tonight?”

Playing dim, wiping glasses clean with a dingy cloth, Raymond twitched his melon head no.

“Marcella Lundquist?” Anders tried again, post-Fitger’s sip.

Raymond cocked his head. Anders knew he was nowhere near a halfwit. What, did he have to slip him a sawbuck for information, like he was a movie detective? “That leggy redhead?”

Anders smiled. “Yeah. That’s Marcella. So?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“What?”

“But I just came on at six.” The Hamm’s clock on the wall read 11:18. “Not to say she wasn’t here earlier. Uncle Otto was tending bar then. He’d know. But he’s probably sleeping now.”

Nodding, Anders swept the barroom again. Three couples slow dancing. No Marcella. He turned back. “Set me up. I’ll be right back.”

He hit the john. Stomach wobbles. He situated himself on the throne just in time.

Belly settled, he noticed an expensive cigar-brown overcoat hanging from the door. Anders checked its pockets, looking for some identification. Leather gloves, a pack of cigarettes, a matchbook, and an envelope with First National Bank printed in the upper left corner. It was thick with cash.

After splashing water on his face at the sink, drying off, he pulled the envelope out of his pocket. Opened it again, thumbed the bills.

He glanced at the door latch. Locked. He pulled the wad out, counted it, then he recounted it. He looked in the mottled mirror. He wasn’t dreaming. He counted the bills a third time.

Each time, the figure was the same.

Ten thousand dollars. More than he made in two years.

He shoved the envelope inside his shirt, tucked low beneath his belt. He walked back to the bar and pulled on his jacket.

Raymond, at the end of the bar, gestured come over. He wouldn’t look Anders in the eye. “Okay. I saw Marcella. I saw her leave.”

“Yeah?”

Raymond polished a slice of bar top real estate. “Yeah, she was talking with Mr. High-Life. Hinckley, the bank VP.” The name meant nothing to Anders. ‘Bank’ did. “They were getting hot and heavy in a booth back there. Fucking redheads. Even that one, what you seen when you came in.”

“Okay?”

“They left like they were going to make Hot Springs tonight.” Raymond rolled his eyes. “The dick-for-brains didn’t even wear his overcoat. He’s probably hopping her in his car right this minute.”

“What’s he drive?”

“Aw, kid. You don’t want…”

“I’m not going to do anything to him.”

Raymond shook his head. “A big fucking Caddy. Shiny, black. This year’s model.”

The wind still blew. Anders spotted the banker’s ’56 Cadillac in the lot. It stood out. It glared.

He walked alongside, his shadow not falling across either occupant. High-Life, eyes closed, leaned back in his seat. Marcella’s head dipped in his lap like a drinking bird toy.

Anders moved off into the trestle’s dark shadow, a hand in his coat pocket pressing against the ten thousand.

The Cadillac action dropped off. Anders walked to his coupe, figuring, the three of them, they each got their payday.


5 Questions with
Nick Kolakowski

This week Nick Kolakowski‘s third and final release of the Love & Bullets trilogy hits with Main Bad Guy. Nick has not only contributed this wonderful series to the Shotgun Honey Book line, but he’s also one of the three gauntlet members who review fiction submissions for the site, as well an unsung book editor for our imprint. He helps out a lot.

In fact, usually, Nick is interviewer for the 5 Questions interviews, but today we flip the script. Nick is the subject, and Travis Richardson, who was Nick’s last victim is the interviewer. So lets see what transpired.

Q. MAIN BAD GUY is the third and final book in the “Love & Bullets” trilogy. When you started the first book, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, did you know it was going to be a trilogy? If so, did you know what each of the stories would be about early on and the ends of the major characters? And if not, do you regret any choices made in the first book that you might not have made if knew it was a three part series?

When I wrote “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps,” I had no idea it would become a trilogy—and I regret killing one of the main characters, who was funny and unhinged and in retrospect would have been a valuable player throughout the subsequent two books. I also regret killing him in a way that gave me absolutely zero wiggle room for bringing him back; at least authors like Arthur Conan Doyle were smart enough to subject their heroes to highly ambiguous demises, like throwing them into a large body of water.

All that aside, after I finished writing “Brutal Bunch,” the characters of Bill and Fiona kept speaking to me, and I felt compelled to begin writing another book about them. Plot-wise, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted them to end up, but character-wise I had very firm ideas: Fiona, who starts out as pretty ruthless and bloodthirsty, was going to get increasingly pacifistic, and Bill, who is a great hustler but pretty much useless when it comes to violence, was going to get more competent at survival.

Q. In MAIN BAD GUY you have a good bad guys (former assassins, thieves, etc.) vs. bad bad guys (evil crime bosses, paranoid drug kings, mercenaries, etc.) Which do you prefer to write and why?

Bad bad guys are hard to sustain over an entire book—that’s why Hannibal Lecter always seems to work better as a supporting character, or at least a second lead, than as a main character. With good bad guys, though, you have a lot of internal friction—there are fine character beats you can mine out of someone whose intentions are good, but whose circumstances lead them to do highly anti-social things like kill people. So I like writing about the good bad guys; they seem more capable of driving a narrative that’s hundreds of pages long.

Q. In the final book, Bill and Fiona spend the entire time in New York. (Seriously they can’t move.) It seems the other two books have multiple locations beyond the Empire State. As a New Yorker, did you want to end the series in the Big Apple as a sort of messed up love letter and what does New York mean to you in terms of crime fiction?

The first book begins in New York (chronologically, at least; it appears in flashbacks) and so I always wanted it to end there. New York has been a prime location for crime fiction for many decades, but the character of the city has changed considerably in the last quarter-century; when you read the early books of someone like Lawrence Block, where Midtown is a seedy wreck, it now seems like an alien world. I wanted “Main Bad Guy” to address New York’s gentrifying environment, and suggest that, no matter how clean or shiny a place might become, at least some of its people will always remain warped or cracked or seedy.

Plus, I’m sick of how gentrification has transformed portions of my neighborhood into a bunch of soulless, tasteless buildings; taking one of those buildings and making it the center of a lot of fiery mayhem gave me a vicarious and vicious thrill.

Visit NickKolakowski.com

Q. The “Love & Bullets” collection has a lot of gonzo action that is hilarious and thrilling. I love it. Were there any scenes that you wrote through the series that you had to retract or tone down to keep it within the realms of reality? Or did you create an impossible situation that Fiona and Bill couldn’t escape?   

I didn’t tone anything down—in fact, at certain key moments, I asked myself how I could maximize the weirdness. The tone of the books is madcap enough that I felt I could really stretch the reality; when you have a character prancing through a gunfight in an Elvis suit (“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps”), decapitating another character in a self-driving Tesla (“Slaughterhouse Blues”), or trying to hide in a weed grow-house on top of a skyscraper (“Main Bad Guy”), pretty much anything goes.

With “Main Bad Guy,” my goal was ultimately to confine Bill and Fiona into as small a space as possible. I’ve always loved siege movies like John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” and I wanted to design something that paid homage to that—put your characters in a box, give them zero resources, surround them with villains, and let them try to figure out how to survive.

Q. You open MAIN BAD GUY with a scene from Fiona’s past. It was a fun and informative scene to know who she is and her relationship with her father. Did you always have that as her bio or did it evolve from the previous novels?

That scene was originally a flashback from the first book! I cut it out because of pacing, but I always wanted to use it; “Main Bad Guy” gave me an opportunity to do so, because it also introduces her father, who plays a major role in the book. If you want insight into Fiona’s character, you just need to realize she’s spent her life emulating her daddy.  


Author of the Week: Joe Okonkwo

In the weeks to come I’ll be looking back at authors and stories featured on Shotgun Honey that deserve another visit because it personally connected with me or I believe it was overlooked when published.

Joe Okonkwo submitted “A Proper Welcome” several years back, and what I loved about the story was how it captured a tone through the use of lyrical writing closely tying music and atmosphere. When a story feels like it has a beat, a rhythm, strums with life, you’ve got me hooked. I’d love to see Joe back at Shotgun Honey.

Thank you Joe for a story that gives us a little more.


The Hit

She was as nervous as a lizard sunning itself on the side of the freeway. It felt so good, but getting squashed was just one swerve away. His lips were firecrackers. His eyes knew a thousand ways for you to die.

“You wanna get out of here?” he said.

“You betcha.”

Outside, the night was thick and redolent. Palm trees whispered, “You ain’t seen nothin yet.”

His car was a rough beast. It growled, but its belly was full of Taco Bell wrappers.

He put his hand on her breast. She’d been here before. She knew where it was going.

“Drive,” she said.

The mean car whipped through backroads curves, ate asphalt like it was fudge. His left hand drove the beast. His right hand drove her crazy.

They came to the lake to end all lakes: Ripples in moonlight. Voices of ardent insects. A breeze like the kiss your mother gives you before you ride the orphan train.

“Kiss me,” she said.

Hot hands in moonlight. She was open and willing.

She rode the man with the deadly eyes without fear. Her super power was desire, and its faith was stronger than any danger. Her orgasm was the crack of a whip, a sudden storm over moonlight lake.

“I need you to do a job for me,” she said.

“I thought I just did.”

“Such a joker.”

The man with the fatal eyes laughed, head thrown back to show a bull’s neck.  Lightning cracked her body again, and she glowed like the moon all the way back to town.

Harvey was the kind of guy who needed to be dead. Too quick with a slap and a shove; too stingy with the love stuff. She’d married him on a two-year bender. The next two years were nothing but a long comedown. She’d bottomed out the night she took a ride with the man with the blossoming lips and the killing eyes.

Harvey took her by the shoulders and sat her down on the bed.

“You stink,” he said.

She knew she did. The other man’s fatal odor coated her skin like the candy covering a melted M&M. She was still oozing like chocolate.

“I’ll take a shower.”

“Maybe I don’t care.”

“Maybe you don’t.”

He took her the way he always did, letting her know she was like the bed or the table, just another thing of his. No lightning cracks here. Her skin ached for moonlight.

Jasmine fell through a gentle summer rain the night Harvey died. A shadow at the window, a midnight walk, New Orleans gleaming across the lake like a pile of discarded 7-Up cans. Outside, she saw the silhouettes through the window shade, one thrusting and thrusting, the other struggling, stumbling, falling. Good-bye, Harvey.

Hello, burning kiss. He met her outside, in the shadows under the magnolias. She handed over the three thousand bucks, feeling like that kiss should have been worth a discount.

She pressed against him, body glowing in the aftermath of no more Harvey. Her hands felt the hard wad of the cash, the hard wad of his dick.

He held her wrists.

“Easy.”

“I don’t want it easy.”

She squirmed against him. He pulled her hands behind her back. It made her crazier. Mouth open, panting, she lunged for his tongue, and he let her have it again. A kiss deeper than the grave, hot as hell.

 She fell back, breathless, letting her body arch back against his pinioning hands. “I want you,” she gasped. “I want it. Please.”

He looked down at her with those death eyes.

“I don’t mix business with pleasure,” he said.

“What about the other night?”

“That was business, too.”

“You motherfucker.”

One steely hand still capturing her wrists, he put his other on her breast. She moaned, but it wasn’t really a caress. It was a warning. And her thrumming body took it.

She went still, soaked and shivering as she was. When he saw she was quiet, he let her go.

“Don’t try to find me,” said the man with the killing eyes.

She wouldn’t. But the tropical night opened for her like a ripe fruit. She knew she’d find something out there.


Submissions Open for Shotgun Honey Presents Volume 4.

In 2012 we published our first book, Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels, an anthology featuring 29 tales of crime from authors like Frank Bill, Chris F. Holm, and Kieron Shea. We continued with two additional volumes in 2013 and 2015, Reloaded and Locked and Loaded. All three were general crime, noir and mystery compilations. All three are still in circulation and are a good indicator of the kinds of stories we like.

In late 2019, we’re going to do it again and are actively looking for submissions for Shotgun Honey Presents Volume 4, yet to be titled.

Deadline for submissions is Sunday March 31, 2019.


Patience and Rage

Nikki’s Roadhouse.  Off a dusty stretch of blacktop between Hanson Falls and Culver City it sits as if awaiting destruction.

I’m happy to oblige.

Man by the name of Varga is how it begins.  He gives up not only Rawlins but the very basement the recording went down.  We investigate.  Jeramiah into the bar and me into Rawlins himself.  Left eye for shit, out of Millhaven after a ten-year bid, Rawlins reopens the Roadhouse with an uncle the year before last.  A strip joint of the lowest order, it was the type of place where the mirrors held not only the hopes of the damned, but human smear as well.

“Fucker ticks all the boxes, Rider.  Tweaker.  Hygiene for shit.  Wouldn’t surprise me if it ends up being him behind the pig mask.”  I couldn’t argue with the man, Jeramiah seeing the same thing being played out more times than I cared to count.

“We hit it before dawn, then.  If we’re lucky, someone might even be home.”

And home they were, Rawlins and his uncle bursting out from the back of the Roadhouse as the flames take root.  Jeramiah is ready, popping the older man with butt-end of his sawed-off with such force that zip codes and forced dentistry enter the equation.  Rawlins is next, coughing up a lung as he emerges from the smoke.  Jeramiah goes low this time, into the solar plexes. Done, he takes the man’s head between his hands and then it’s a knee that’s given all the time it required to shine.  Under control, we scoop them up and place them into the back of the van, the fire now an inferno behind us.

These men would not die by fire.  All told, it was never even an option.

Not while each of us still breathed.

• • •

I tell him it may not look like much, but the shovel, it had by far become my favourite tool.  I wasn’t talking to the man below me either.  No, it was the piece of shit uncle who lay beside him.

I watch his eyes as they follow the shovel, as it leaves and returns to the palm of my hand.  Jeramiah leans back against the hood of the van, his body in-between the headlights which bathe us.  The quarry we’ve taken them to is silent, the rocks beneath their duct-tapped bodies an added bonus to what was about to occur.  They didn’t need to be comfortable when they died.  No, the opposite in fact.

“And Marty, I want you to keep your eyes open for what happens next.  Because when it does, it’s going to happen quick.  I will assume we understand one another.” 

Marty nods.  Good.  Be a shame if he missed any of the particulars.

I turn my attention to the piece of shit between my legs.  Heavy set, in leather pants and a beater T, Rawlins continues to squirm as best he can but duct tape, especially when applied mid-chest to mid-thigh, has a way of guarding against such things.  I hunker down, lean close into his stubbled face, his one good eye bulging as I do.  It screams, that eye, wanting to tear into me in all the ways I was about to tear into him.  I don’t know this for certain.  I only know what I feel.

“Feels different, doesn’t it?  Being on this end of things.  Maybe it causes you to think about what you and your buddies put those women through.  You do that, we might even get you to within an inch of what you made them endure.”  His eye again, shooting daggers, as I stand and place the pointed end of the shovel into the shallow portion of his neck.  An arching comes in response to this, or an attempt to arch, but this man, a man who chose to profit in ways no man should, he finds himself in two places at once: the end of my patience and the birth of my rage.  I step forward and up.  My added weight in seconds separating skin and then breaching bone.  The screaming behind his gag becomes louder, fuller, punctuated with a type of sound not many men get to hear.  Last, I give a heel stomp.  Another.  Detachment achieved with a third.  It brings vertebrae into play, along with cartilage and blood that goes not in one direction, but three. I pause.  Breathe.  Then look back to Marty and see that yes, the uncle was ready to talk.

Full disclosure: they usually are.

• • •

But he gives us nothing new; we’d hit the end of the line.  A good thing, yes, but that we chased it still, no.  We could not catch them all.  We knew we never would.  We could only continue to do what we believed to be right.  Some might say this is enough. My memory disagrees.


Blood Will Tell

Somebody took out the king’s son Kore with a blade. A bad blade, one that left many deep wounds. Kore had been in hiding and detoxing, sedated, watched over.

When the king heard his enormous head trembled like jellied beef. Rage. And some other thing. A strange light flickered on behind his eyes.

The king’s people were Kore’s watchers. No outsider knew of the confinement. There were six. Gabor, Bela, Tibo, Jal, Zoltan, and Joska. Conclusion: trust no one.

Kore’s funeral was set for the family plot in the Union graveyard. “No. Not yet,” the king said. He called for an open casket in Ho-Ho-Kus. In the subbasement of the Goulash Pot. Six invitations. He himself made the seventh.

He was all the time now visiting the seer Celesta.

The six watchers, in dress black, filed down the basement stairs. No chairs. The corpse was naked on a low surface covered with a black shroud, the shroud scattered with glittering stars. Kore’s thorax was covered with red wounds like so many extra mouths. Everyone stood at a respectful distance.

The king stood where he could see the men and his son’s body. “Each one walk up alone,” he said. “Count five then you go off to the left. No touching. Touch and o Beng himself won’t save you.”

Gabor moved forward, paused before the bier, then moved off. Jal followed. Zoltan followed.

Then Bela approached. A trickle of blood ran from a wound in Kore’s side.

The king spoke. “Bastard.”

Bela’s face was frozen in alarm. “Nano, not me, this was not me.”

“We see my child’s blood. Does it lie?”

“A coincidence, Nano!”

“The dead know no coincidences.” The king spat the last word with contempt. “What did you think? You would be in my place?”

“Let me die if  . . .”

“You’re smarter than me. Smarter than fate.”

“Nano!”

“You are discarded. Like the mess of a diseased cat.”

Everyone in the basement stared at Bela. His eyes swept them uncertainly. Then he ran up the cement stairs.

Tibo and Joska never came forward.

The king spoke. “My grandparents grew up caravanning near this place. I have a 20-room house. But no one close. No one.”

The others stood with their heads inclined, looking everywhere but at the shrouded bier.

“I would have nothing done in my son’s presence,” the king said. “Let the death angel fly from this room to . . . Bela’s false heart. Any of you here can claim the honor.”

There was no more to be said. The men filed silently back up the steps. Leaving the king alone, to take his final leave.

Out on the street, Zoltan and Joska stopped for a smoke by Joska’s car. Joska said, “Very superstitious.”

Zoltan said, “No one thought Kore would be able to hold control.”

“He’ll have to choose another.”

“We all have choices to make. Are you in the chase?”

“Sure I am. Are you?”

Zoltan didn’t reply. He carefully crushed his cigarette on the ground. Trees lining the road were bursting with white blossoms. Then he said, “This is the best place to live in the state. There’s no crime.”

Zoltan was tasting blood from the nicks in his tongue. At the count of five, spitball a chip of glass into the body. Hit a scabbed spot and the bleeding would seep out – just as Bela walked up. That’s theater. He knew what Celesta had said to the old man. Blood will tell. Blood will tell. For the millionth time he thought it through. He’d removed the top two. The king had gone mad. Zoltan would be ruling in the East, not many years from now. Just wait.


Welcome to the Lucky Clover


“Some of us, by simple grace, sit on the merry-go-round enjoying the ride while others struggle just to stay on. The damned thing’s going too fast, their legs keep getting away from them, everything they have slides over the edge and is gone. These are the folks Nick Heeb writes about. Don’t try to make writing like this safe by saying it’s gritty or transgressive or classic noir. Those are words, and this is real.”

—James Sallis, author of Drive and the Lew Griffin cycle


This week Shotgun Honey is pleased to release the debut novel The Lucky Clover by Nick Heeb. The story is about a man who is drawn to misfortune, poor choices, and the remote roadside biker bar The Lucky Clover. As James Sallis suggests, Heeb has produced a book that doesn’t easily fit into one bucket, though elements may want you to quickly do so. Regardless of what you clasp onto, The Lucky Clover will drag you and its protagonist willingly or not to the end.

Available for direct order from Down & Out Books, Amazon and many online retailers in paperback and eBook.


Home Invasion

They sat in the car some distance from the house and watched the lights in the windows go off one at a time. Leon, hunched over in the driver’s seat with his elbows on the wheel, knew that meant the old man was making his final rounds for the night. He knew it meant the woman was in bed, and the security system was on.

When they had waited long enough, he turned to the other two men in the car and told them it was time. Leon, who had helped with the construction on the house earlier that summer, knew the layout better than they did. But only they knew how to break into a safe.

“You ready?”

Mickey, in the passenger seat, said: “We need 45 minutes to get into the safe.”

Nodding, Leon handed over the copy of the key and reminded them about the alarm.

“Don’t worry, we got it,” said Joe, climbing out the backseat.

“And the dog. Don’t forget about the dog neither.”

Joe gave the OK sign, and the two of them started toward the house.

As he waited, Leon could feel himself trembling. He wondered if it was from nerves, or the need for a fix, or both. He wondered if he should’ve gone in first. He wondered about the woman — what was her name? Connie? Karen? — and what she was thinking about, lying in bed beside the old man every night. What’d she see in him, he thought, remembering how she looked at him while he worked.

A half-hour went by. As Leon lit his second cigarette, he heard the old man shouting. It was followed almost immediately by the sound of gunfire.

The hell?

Silence. Then another gunshot. And another. Leon’s heart raced. I told them no guns!                   

He bolted toward the house. The front door was open. The woman was upstairs, somewhere, screaming. He ignored her and crept into the parlor.

A body lay prone in front of the open safe. Inside it, the case of jewelry was just sitting there for the taking. Fucking amateurs, Leon thought.

With both hands he shoved the body over so he could get to the safe. When he saw it was Mickey, and not the old man, he stood up.

What the—

Footsteps from somewhere down the hall, someone making a run for the front door.  Another gunshot, a garbled scream.

Joe’s scream.

Panicking, Leon grabbed some of the jewelry out of the box and stuffed it into his pocket.

Of course we didn’t think about the old man having a damn gun.

He crept toward the back door that led to the patio. He knew from having cased the house earlier that day that he could make a beeline for the woods.

But as he was sliding open the glass panel door, the dog — the fucking dog! — charged at him from outside.

Leon jumped back, slamming the door shut before it could claw its way inside. He thought instantly about climbing through one of the windows. But just as he started toward the one above the sink, he heard the sound of a gun being cocked.

“Don’t move,” the old man said. “Turn around.”

Leon raised his hands above his head and pivoted, slowly, until he was facing him. The old man’s eyes grew wide.

“You.”

Leon said nothing. His hands were trembling, out of fear now.

Pointing the gun at Leon, the old man moved closer. “You came here to rob me. Why?”

“We…We needed the money.”

The old man shook his head. “I knew it was a mistake letting you work here again. I should’ve known not to trust a criminal.”

He stepped closer. There was a tenderness in his eyes Leon hadn’t expected. The two men regarded each other for a moment, the gun wavering in the old man’s hands. When he lowered it, Leon felt a rush of relief.

Sensing this was his chance, he mustered the words he had never been able to say.

“I’m sorry.”

The old man sighed.

“You and me both,” he said, finally. Then he aimed the gun at his son’s chest and pulled the trigger.


The Burn Down

Simple he said.

Go in after the place closes and set the bottles, five, filled with a combination of kerosene and liquid soap, nobodies gonna care that some greaseball bar goes up in the middle of the night.  Only Gallo didn’t account for the guys sleeping in the back room.  Soon as the first fuse goes and the bottle pops and sends a sticky wave of flame arching into the wall behind it, Billy starts hearing something.  Next one goes and I’m thinking of getting out of there and Billy is screaming about people in the back.  I’m thinking it ain’t my problem, cold I know, but I’m not skinning my own hide to save a bunch of people we’re supposed to be warring with.  Billy is trying to stomp out the wicks but we daisy-chained them so that as one explodes and burns, the flame is already working towards the next one automatic like.  Behind me, I hear the peel out and turn to watch through the front window as our driver hightails down the road leaving us two in a burning building and I make a mental note to plug that yellow son-of-a-bitch when I see him next.

Now the flame is creeping across the ceiling and I start coughing from the smell.  Billy is working like a lunatic to stop the fire, but he don’t see the flames building up behind him.  I yell and he gives me a glance, half-panic, half-manic.

I can still hear screaming, but there ain’t no way to save them now as the whole back wall is a tapestry of flames.  I watch the paint blister and peel and the flames seep through the crack of the door.

The smoke is getting thick and I have to kneel down to see Billy.  I move to the door ready to retreat.  The pop and hiss of another bottle sends my hand to the knob and I yell at Billy to quit fucking around, but through the growing sheet of smoke, all I can see is his shadow.  Now the place looks like a hellscape, the wood bar is lit up like the river Phlegethon, with the bootleg bottles stashed behind the bar only serving to fuel the flames.  Finally, I call quits and run through the door to the street and fresh air.  Billy almost pushes me into the street when he runs out a few seconds later.  We both double over, coughing and spitting in the gutter, not worried about cops or fire-eaters cause they’d been paid off.

“I’m going to kill that fat fuck Gallo next I see him!” Billy yells.

“You’re not plugging our boss, maybe our driver, but not our boss.”

He hacks and spits something black into the street then stands full to his six-foot frame.  We both turn and watch as the inside of the bar continues to eat itself.  Billy leans in and I know he was listening for those poor bastards in the back but looking at the destruction, I figured they were long gone now.

“Wasn’t supposed to be anyone here, he told us no one would be here.” Billy whispers.  He turns to me and I see the regret on his soot covered face.

“I know.”

“Was it worth it?” he asks.

“It never is.” I say and push him into a jog down the street.  Only so long that payoff money will last, then those uniforms will have to come investigate.