Folded Blue

Harry opened the door.

Jules stood on the porch holding a brown paper bag.  “Thought we could throw back a few.”  He looked past Harry into the dark apartment.  “You alone?”

Harry nodded and stepped away from the door.

Jules came inside and went straight for the kitchen.  “Mind if I put these in the fridge?”

“Go ahead.”  Harry closed the door and walked back to the couch in the corner of the room.  The ashtray on the coffee table was full and overflowing.  “You bring any smokes?”

“I don’t smoke, man, you know that.”

Harry did know that, it was one of the reasons he didn’t like Jules.  For a drunk, Jules was far too concerned about his health to be that good of a friend.

Harry thumbed through the ash tray, picked out a half-smoked cigarette, blew off the filter and put it to his lips.  “You got a light?”

Jules came out of the kitchen with two beers and handed one to Harry.  “I think I might.”

“Doesn’t smoke, but carries a lighter.”

“No lighter,” he said.  “But these will work.”

He held out a black and gold pack of matches.  Harry knew them well.  They were from the Moonlight Tavern off 76th street.  Rita used to work there.

“When were you at the Moonlight?”

“I stop in now and then.”

“You see Rita?”

“Not for a couple days,” he said.  “She’s off somewhere, you know how she gets.”

Harry nodded and took a drink of his beer.  It was warm, but it tasted good.

Neither of them spoke.

Harry leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes.  Outside, the noise from the street drifted into the room like the sound of an angry sea.

Jules coughed.

Harry opened his eyes.  “You sick?”

“Nothing serious.”

“What’s nothing serious?”

“I don’t know,” Jules said.  “Nothing serious.”

“Don’t come over here when you’re sick.”

“Christ, Harry, it’s just allergies.  They always kick in come August.”

“If you say so.”

Jules shook his head.  “You’re a fucking hypochondriac, you know that?”

Harry ignored him.

They finished their beers and opened two more.

“You got plans tonight?” Jules asked.

“Just this.”

“What about later?  You feel like going out?”

“No.”

Jules paused, looked down at the bottle in his hand.  “Yeah, me neither.”

Outside, someone screamed, followed by laughter.

Harry finished his beer then got up and walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge.  There were two left.  He opened one, said, “Last two, you ready?”

“Keep it,” Jules said.  “I’m going to take off.”

Harry took the last beer back to the couch.  “Thanks for stopping by, Jules.”

“You sure I can’t get you to come along?”

“Come along where?”

“Anywhere,” he said.  “Just thought you might want to get out of here for a while.”

“No, I’m good.”

Jules stared at him for a moment then set his empty bottle on the floor beside the chair and stood up.  “If you change your mind—”

“Sure.”

Jules walked to the door and stopped.  “You know, Rita feels real bad about the other night.  She didn’t mean to embarrass you like that.”

Harry nodded.

“She thinks you’re a great guy, Harry, a sweetheart.” Jules hesitated.  “Just not her type.  You understand?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“She asks about you.”

Harry took a drink.  “Tell her I said hello.”

Jules nodded slowly.  “Sure, Harry.  I’ll tell her.”

Harry waited until he was alone, then got up and walked to the bathroom.  One of the fluorescent lights was out, and the remaining bulb buzzed behind the glass like a chorus of flies.

He sat on the edge of the toilet, pulled back the shower curtain, and looked down at Rita, naked and folded blue in a pool of red.

He stared at her, his pants growing painfully tight, then he stood and leaned over the tub, bracing himself against the shower wall, and unzipped.

After he finished, he cleaned himself up and walked back to the living room.

For the first time that night, everything was quiet.

Harry listened to the silence.  Then he twisted the cap off the last beer and drank.


The Last Sacrament

Not many of my friends want to be altar boys anymore. I know what you think; the Church has done a lot of wrong, but there are still good people working to help the needy and change things from within.

I became an altar server right after I was Confirmed. My mother always wanted me to be a priest, and after Dad died, Father Horgan was like a father to me. So it was natural that he asked me, and I’ve been his favorite acolyte ever since. He says I treat things with the proper gravity, which means I keep my mouth shut. The other boys whisper a lot amongst themselves.

It’s not easy, either. You have to arrive early, put on your surplice and robe, and assist the deacons. You may be chosen to light the candles, or be the crucifer, who carries the brass cross up the aisle. The greatest is when you’re the thurifer, the one who carries and swings the incense, and leads the procession. I was proud when Father Horgan first chose me to do it. You have to swing the censer three times before the altar, after a priest blesses it. It’s an important duty, and I treat it very seriously.

Tonight, he told me to dress comfortably, in dark clothes. We would administer the sacrament of anointing the sick. He told me they used to call it extreme unction, before I was born. That sounded too severe, so they changed it, but he preferred the old name. I agreed; it does sound better. It has the proper gravity.

I found Father Horgan in his room in the rectory, as he knelt and prayed the rosary. He made his own rosary out of black parachute cord he got at the Army surplus store. He said it was strong and befitting a warrior of God. He told me he’d make me one someday, when the time was right.

I stood quietly in the doorway until he finished. He was in his vestments, and had brought my robe from the sacristy. I pulled it on over my hoodie and jeans. I asked about the white surplice but he said we wouldn’t wear that tonight, and I followed him to his car.

He drove to the deacon’s home. It was in the nice part of town. I’d never been there before. Father Horgan said the deacon was sick, and needed absolution. In many ways it is the most important of the seven sacraments, because it’s the last one you ever get. It prepares you for the hereafter, putting you in a state of grace. That’s what they taught us in catechism.

Another sacrament is penance, or confession. I go every week. It’s important for reflection, Father said. You may not know you’ve committed a minor sin like lustful thoughts, and soon enough they seem normal to you. And soon you’re thinking of fellow human beings as mere vessels for your lust. And that’s a big sin, he said. A mortal one.

My last confession was about lustful thoughts. Father said I’m at that age, when hormones take over, but I must keep watch over them. They are never stronger than our hearts, he told me. So when someone shows me dirty pictures, I look away. I’m not sure I’ll remain a virgin before priesthood, but I don’t need to look at that filth. So I told the Father about it.

We pulled into the deacon’s driveway. The lights were all out except for one upstairs. He was up there, sick and alone. The Father let me inside, and we tread carefully in case he was resting. He was not, when we found him in his bedroom. He was sitting in front of his laptop, looking at the same filthy photos of little children that he’d showed me before.

Father Horgan whipped his rosary over the deacon’s neck and yanked it taut.

My job was to recite the Act of Contrition. For us, not for him.

“Oh, my God. I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…”

I made sure to give it the proper gravity.


Gran Torino

The car didn’t even slow down, that was what upset Maureen the most. More than her newly-permed hair whipping across her face, more than the pounding in her chest. She stood in the middle of the pedestrian crossing and watched her precious oranges bounce off down the road.

“You little toe-rag,” she screeched, waving her walking stick at the vanishing smear of the car. “Just you wait till my Harold gets hold of you.” Then she burst into tears, not from shock but because Harold was only five months in the ground and it was still too soon.

She hoped the driver would see she was frail, and stop to help. He might pick up the oranges, and the biscuits and tea that were spilled and spoiling in the road. But there was no change in the exhaust’s throaty roar, no sign of the car deviating from its route. In the distance the window wound down, an arm emerged, and a finger jabbed towards the sky. Even over the engine noise she heard his voice, roughened by triumph and too many cigarettes.

“Get out of the road, you stupid old cow!”

She phoned her grandson once she could keep the quaver out of her voice. “Who round here drives a navy blue BMW?”

“Gran? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, dear. Just answer the question.”

“If it had alloy wheels then it’s probably Wayne Bright. Lives in one of the tower blocks and nobody likes him much. Plays his music all hours of the night and he’s never done a decent day’s work in his life – he spends most of his time at the bookies in town.”

She got her mobility scooter out and trundled to the square. It was the one Harold had bought for her only the previous year; at the time he’d made some modifications she never thought she’d need. Thanks to Wayne Bright she’d changed her mind.

Bright sun bounced off the bookie’s plate-glass windows, throwing her reflection back at her, and that of a large dark car swerving in to park. She recognised that car, even back to front – the same one that had nearly knocked her down. A youth got out and slammed the door. Maureen worried that he’d spot her watching him, but he had a hoodie pulled down low over his eyes and headphones clamped to his ears, and wouldn’t notice an elephant driving a double-decker bus.

He paused to light a cigarette, hands cupping the match against the breeze. He took the first deep drag of smoke, held it in his lungs, prepared to release. Maureen seized her chance. Using Harold’s special controls she put the scooter in silent mode and sidled up behind. At the last second she hit a different control and an air-horn blasted the busy street. The result was better than she’d hoped. The lad jumped so hard he inhaled the cigarette. Tears dribbled down his face and he coughed until he retched, odd little puffs of smoke still rising from his throat.

“Out of my way, you stupid little runt,” she screeched, and flicked Harold’s third and final switch. The blades shot out of the centre of her wheels, gleaming and glinting in the sun, their edges as sharp as swords. “Out of my way,” she called again, and shot the scooter forward at ramming speed.
The lad screamed as she ran over his foot. He screamed again as the blades bit deep. He screamed a third time as the blood began to spurt. He collapsed to the pavement clutching both his legs. Around him people stopped and stood and stared, and then they began to cheer.

Harold, her dear Harold, car mechanic extraordinary and godfather of the local estate. He’d ruled these streets with a rod of iron. He would be proud of her.


Gun Mantra

I walk down the stone pier. It’s slick with slime and excrement and littered with ash. Dark water slaps against pylons. I look over the river. Even at this hour, it lives. Thick with the poor and powerful. The citizen and the criminal. Lost in lantern light and darkness. Choking curls of pyre smoke.

Behind me the radio. Chota chatters. The walkie-talkie chirps back. He touches my shoulder. Before he speaks I know what he is going to say. “Inspector, Rajan is leaving the char.”

I look out at that island. An ephemeral home of silt and sediment. When the rains come next month, it will vanish. Washed away. Further down river to form anew. Now it teams with refugees and hardscrabble hovels. Poverty is the mother of all crime. It births thieves from its shriveled and malnourished cunt.
Vijay Rajan knows this. He uses it.

No more after tonight.

“Let’s go. Positions.” Chota barks my command. It spreads like funeral fire along the bank. It cascades through radio and cell.

The Encounter Squad waits.

It seems forever. But lasts for only a breath before engine hum overtakes the silence. The boat. Moving. Toward us. Cutting holy water with a liar’s ease.

I unclip my holster. Close my eyes. Still my breath. My men won’t understand this. They are good men. But they won’t. They never do.

The bow thuds against the pier. I open my eyes. In the dim I see Rajan riding aft. High-seated and smug like one of the bandit kings the Raj hung from crossroad trees. The lead men hops from boat to stone, grips rope and pulls his master home.

My men will be there for the trial and the ruling. Justifiable. Duty served. They’ll pat me on the back. Call me cowboy. Buy me drinks next time we meet. They’ll tell stories of my daring in desperate bids to bed call-center honeys.

But they won’t understand.

I look down at my right hand. At the tattoo of Lord Ganesha. Remover of Obstacles. I flex and draw my weapon, adjust grip. Its feels damning. Not the action I know will come, but this movement, this moment. Like I’ve repeated it before, across thousands of lives. I feel the tug of the thousand more to come and fear it will always be this. Me and a gun.

Rajan stands. Buttons his jacket. He moves down the length of the boat, steadied by the hands of his men. Passed like some relic. I give no word, I only move. Out of the darkness and quick down the pier.

“Gun,” I yell and shoot the lead man in the skull. It shatters like the universe before Shiva. It knocks him backward off the pier. His body careens into the boat with a wet smack before the water swallows it.

The Encounter Squad moves. Voices cry out. In the night and the smoke. Directionless and thrown into echo. Guns glint and gleam. More cocks than a brothel could service. So many men. Footsteps are thunder. The storm of elephants. Panic rises in eyes.

When the heavens move, man must relent or be swept aside by the tide of time.

Again, I yell, “Gun!” This shot spears the throat of the motor man. His death spasm fires the engine. The boat jerks, bangs into the pylons, cuts sharply backward only to be yanked and spin on the mooring.
From my left, machinegun fire cuts the boat to splinters.

Rajan straightens. The squad positions and aims. A righteous army. His eyes remained motionless. Yet, I hope in this moment, he understands our life and our death.

“Fuck you, Inspector.”

He doesn’t.

“Vijay Rajan,” I tell him, “you are under arrest.”

He shrugs.

I raise my weapon. He stares at the barrel of the gun. “Is this what karma looks like?” He asks.

Ganesha’s inky trunk tightens. The bullet penetrates his suprasternal notch. Ganesha roars again. The second punches through the bottom of his chin. Exits in vivid spray from the top of his head.

I tell my men to wait before fishing him from the Ganges. First, it must wash him clean.


Tornado Noir

Phirun was watching the weather report when the kid pulled a .380 that probably hadn’t been cleaned since the Carter administration.

“I want the cash, man! Hand it over!”

He was leprosy thin, with dirty hands, peach fuzz on his chin, lousy teeth, a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tee. Phirun looked back at the television. The weatherman from Channel Four said something about a reflectivity core and wind shear. A Tornado Warning had been issued for Whoppaloosa County. Phirun tried to find his Chevron on the radar. There was a lot of red and yellow on the way.

“D-did you hear me, dude? Gimme the goddamn money!”

Phirun gave his robber a cursory glance.

“You rob me now?” he said. “Don’t you watch the news?”

He gestured to the television behind the counter. Noticed the kid’s hand was shaking.

“I’ll give you lotto ticket and a pack of Newports,” Phirun offered, not flinching for a second. “You go now. Save yourself.”

A moment later the siren went off, dopplaring to the interstate and back. The rain turned to hail. The sky was a shade of black usually reserved for coffins and frost bite.

“Now!” the kid yelled, pushing the muzzle of the Beretta in Phirun’s face. The gas station owner held up his hands, placating-like, then opened the register. The kid reached over the counter and grabbed as much cash as he could. Almost simultaneously a straight-line wind in advance of the thunderstorm ripped away the canopy.

The kid turned his head. It was quite a sight.

Phirun produced the machete he kept out of view and swung.

The tweaker looked down at his gun hand, no longer part of his arm, laying on the counter as if he’d presented it for purchase. The blood came in spurts.

“Gawdalmighty Jesussssss!” the kid hollered. He slumped to the floor. Phirun nudged the severed hand so the pistol wasn’t pointing at him.

The lights flickered. Anything not tied down outside was tumble-weeding across the parking lot. Someone off-camera handed the weatherman a piece of paper. A Tornado Emergency had been declared across five counties. The Channel Four meteorologists were grim-faced. Phirun found the language fascinating. Hook echo, supercell rotation, updraft.

The kid started moaning.

Phirun sheathed the machete, dropped the hand in a plastic bag, then came around the counter. Helped the kid to his feet.

“The freezer! Only safe place from tornado!”

The kid gasped.

“My h-hand, man? Where’s my h-hand?”

Between the severed appendage and whatever was floating through his bloodstream, the kid probably was feeling pretty strange. Phirun ushered him into the walk-in freezer behind the sandwich shop. He glanced back at his convenience store, wondering if it’d be there in an hour.

The power went out.

Phirun had always been the prepared sort. Had electric lanterns and a weather radio within arm’s length of the freezer for just such an occasion. The kid staggered to a corner. Wrapped the nub in his shirt.

“You g-gook motherfucker!” he said. “Get me an ambulance!”

“I’m Cambodian,” Phirun corrected him.

“Come to our c-country,” the kid stammered, looking semi-conscious. “Take ‘way j-jobs…”

“Most of my family perished in Pol Pot’s killing fields,” Phirun said. “My father and I emigrated to Georgia before you were born. I been in Whoppaloosa County longer than you.”

The kid struggled to stay upright. His eyes rolled back in his head.

“So c-cold in here…”

The voices on the radio reported multiple twisters on the ground. The sound of the proverbial “freight train” grew louder. Phirun removed the kid’s hand from the plastic bag.

“W-what are ye doing?”

Phirun worked the fingers loose of the Beretta’s grip. He bagged the hand again. Released the magazine, then jacked the round from the pipe. He put the pistol in his pocket.

“B-blanket, dude? I’m sooo cold…”

The kid crumpled.

Phirun unsheathed the machete and went to work.

He wrapped the limbs and torso in Visqueen. Decided to keep the head as a souvenir.

The building shook for a minute, followed by a reprieve. The radio voices told him another tornado was imminent. He hustled through a rear exit. Saw a hundred loblollies snapped in half.

Phirun left the kid on the pavement.

Wondering where the pieces might land.

And thinking it’d been the easiest body yet.


The Floating Man

Nelson stared out the box window of his mother’s 2nd floor apartment trying to find the moon. The glare of the orange street lamps and dim white florescent glare of car headlamps made finding anything other than police helicopter spotlights close to impossible—even the moon. He remembered when he was 9 or 10 staring out this same window and being able to see stars and planets, the moon seeming impossibly large.

But doesn’t everything seem so much larger and full of life when you’re 9? The sights, the sounds…..all the possibilities of life. At age 9, sitting at this window was his ritual while waiting on dinner, his nostrils filled with the steamy, rich smells coming from his mother’s kitchen, the feel of her soft hand on his face when she would come and tell him it was time for dinner.

His mother’s apartment was his entire world.

No, not was, is…

Is his entire world.

And he needed to stop calling it his mother’s apartment, it was his now.

His and his alone.

She’d been gone a month now, buried next to his long dead father. He wasn’t able to go to the funeral. Of course, he hasn’t been able to leave the house in nearly twenty years. Not that he doesn’t want to leave the house–he’d like nothing better than to take a long walk in the park or go to a movie–but his 700 pounds of body wasn’t able to fit through the front door and hadn’t been able to since he turned 18 and managed to squeeze himself into the suit his mother had bought him to wear to his high school graduation. After that, the closest he came to stepping outside was staring out the custom box window his father had installed in the apartment a few months before he died from a massive aneurism.

He had been sitting at the window the afternoon his mother was killed. He’d watched it happen. His poor elderly mother trundling down the sidewalk behind a shopping cart stuffed to overflowing with a weeks worth of groceries. The two boys in the hooded sweet shirts approached her right below his window. Neither of them said a word, they simply pulled lead pipes from their sleeves and started hitting her in the face.

She didn’t see the blows coming, but Nelson did. He spider webbed the glass pounding his fists against it trying to warn her. It took him fifteen minutes to make it to his bedroom, where he’d stupidly left his cell, so he could call 911 for her. By the time he dialed he was out of breath, rivers of sweat coursing down his body, and someone else had already called the police.

Since the attack, he spent his evenings at the ruined window, keeping an eye on the street in front of his building waiting for the attackers to come back, his cell phone tightly gripped in his thick fingers, ready to dial if he saw something suspicious. There’d been nothing but false alarms—his paranoia working over time—and over a hundred wasted 911 calls.

Tonight had been no different. The 911 operators made fun of him when ever called now. They knew his high nasal voice and imitated him like school yard bullies. He was nearly in tears, but he managed to sniff them back.

He needed to be strong, be vigilant.
He watched Cindy Monahan come down the street. Nelson had known her since she was a toddler and his mother would occasionally babysat her. Such a sweet little girl who turned into a brooding, black clad teenager. He knew this look was temporary and she’d become a sweet young woman once she left the neighborhood and went off to college. She walked up to the stoop, hand digging through her jeans for keys and then he spotted them.

The same men in hoods.

They crept up behind Cindy and grabbed her. They were trying to drag her away and do God knows what to her. Nelson stared down at the cell phone. He knew it was useless and crushed it to powder. On trembling legs he stepped up onto the small ledge, his lungs a blast furnace.

He knew this was the only way to stop them so they would never hurt anyone again.

He stared down at the stoop and somehow Cindy had managed to push the men away and at this moment he threw all 700 pounds of himself against the glass and tumbled, becoming momentarily weightless.

A floating man in a rain of glass.


Kids Are Mean

I hate kids.

They make up names just to see someone cry. They do wedgies, swirlies, nuggies, and smack plastic combs on knuckles. They twist titties and fart in each other’s faces. They start rumors of love and sluts. They laugh at changing bodies: pencil moustaches, menstruation, high voices, and boob buds. They torture small animals, rip fireflies’ asses off, and burn ants.

I never had neighbors with kids for very long. I’d play white power music. I’d rent porn and turn it up real loud. I’d catch the kids in the hall after school and tell them Jesus was a fraud and give them genocidal history lessons.

Parents hated me almost as much as I hated their little parasites.

When the Serbians moved in next door with their one son, I thought it would be easy to get rid of them.
The father was an average man. Average eyes, average hair, average build adorned with average clothes. He wore a wool fedora hat and always tipped it as he passed.

His wife was an attractive woman if you considered a woman who stunk of cabbage and had teeth that looked like an unkempt chicken coop attractive.

They had one boy. Loud. Obnoxious. Awful.

I hated him. I tried all my usual tricks, but nothing worked. The family seemed impervious to them. I didn’t know what to do.

I couldn’t eat. I lost hair. At night, I’d try and come up with new ways to make them as miserable as I was, and all I got out of the deal was dark circles under my eyes and a mind that couldn’t focus. For months, I was hopeless.

Once I saw the girl across the hallway try to give the kid a plastic pistol. As he reached up for it, the mother smacked his hand then shooed him in the apartment where he threw a fit. All night. He cursed and broke things and cried.

The mother explained, in her thick accent, that the boy knew about war first-hand, so he didn’t need to be playing it.

The next day I told the kid I put a cap gun in the basement and he could play with it anytime without his momma’s intervention. He smiled. It was a big, goofy disgusting grin.

Downstairs, the kid was ecstatic, pointing and shooting. Caps were popping in rapid succession, releasing a distinct aroma in the air. He’d fall to one knee and fire; I’d hold my chest.

The plan was simple: knock him out and take him somewhere, drop him where no one would find him. Eat. Sleep. Become a human being again.

Behind him, I held up a plumber’s wrench. I felt a weird sense of relief.

Then I saw black.

When I woke up, my hands and feet were taped to a chair. I shook but couldn’t get free.

I looked around and I glimpsed him. He carried a worn leather case that he set on the floor. He placed his old wool fedora next to it.

“My wife,” he said in a thick accent, “doesn’t want boy to have gun or play war. Says it is bad for him. But all boys play war. They want to be men.”

He opened the case and gazed inside.

“I don’t have such feelings. My boy knows this. He asked me to come down and play. A good parent must take time out of his day to play with his child, yes?”

I watched him pull out long stainless-steal scissors. I shook, screamed, shook more. Nothing.

“When you’re looking for trouble, trouble is easy to find. We said this when I was in the army. Soldiers would always look for trouble in Serbia. Sooner or later, they find me.”

Piss dribbled down my legs and soaked my pants. He looked down and smiled.

He was upon me; when my eyes flittered open, he was holding a small bloody sack. My sack.

Before my eyes flittered closed, I understood. We just never grow up.


Catch

It was a bunch of fishermen who finally found Billy Tate’s drowned body. A small, agitated knot of anglers crowding around a humped black shape that had been dragged out of the water and onto a concrete towpath. Behind Lewisham Asda and the London Bridge to Ladywell trainline Tate was born. Amongst the dogshit and the used johnnies. Slimy, wet and bloated up, Billy’s rebirth was from water thick with plastic bags and shopping trolleys, scattered newspapers and flyers floating like scum. I was amazed there was anything alive worth catching in there. Perhaps these guys were not fishing after all, but doggers waiting for the evening rush.

I was on the opposite side of the canal, squatting by the rusting metal lockhead and smoking a roach, watching as one of the men took a brave step forward to inspect the corpse, prodding with a stick before turning it over like a line caught Tench. Another was bent over and honking his guts into the canal while the rest, panic in their throats, tried to call the services.

If he smelled bad, Billy Tate must have looked a whole lot worse. Two weeks in the drink with the rats eating the soft bits and the eels eating the hard. It would make Ashton Kutcher look like Herman Munster so Billy had no chance – he was plenty ugly before he took that final dive.

I had to get closer though. Watching this caper unfold from the other side might be fun but it wouldn’t get me my phone back and the blues and twos would be here in under ten.

I took the iron bridge over the canal and headed towards the group. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get at that SIM and I had no inclination to explain myself to these goons. The corpse in front of them should be distraction enough.

I got to the body before anyone clocked me, and I started searching. Breathing through clenched teeth. Quick as you like. The guts of a dead donkey was Calvin Klein compared to this filthy shitbag.

Black gunk and reams of river slime slid out of his pockets as I hunted for the Nokia. I glanced at his face and wish I hadn’t: a bloated sack, white and lumpy like rotted jellied eels. It turned my gut as finally, thankfully, the phone slipped into my filthy hand. Another birth. I delivered me a fucking prize baby.

And then a hand on my shoulder. Puker had sorted himself out and was mouthing something about the police. I stood up and before he could speak again I hit him once in the abdomen. Just hard enough to send him back into the canal, where he hit the water with a solid DUNK. A slam dunk.

It kicked off – sirens arriving, screaming at the top of the embankment as the men in front of me realised what had happened to their buddy. Uniform racing down the slope to my position on the side of the canal. And still the drowned body of Billy Tate at my feet like some rejected offering.

I moved fast, the phone gripped in a fist, past the slow hands of the fisherman who were scrabbling at the greasy water’s edge. Up towards the police who were running fast down the bank. Three of them with their bright yellow jackets like targets you couldn’t miss. I put my hand on the pistol grip as I sprinted up, the voices of the men behind me, trying to warn the uniform.

But they didn’t need warning. They saw me, they recognised me, they deferred to me. I held up my warrant card as they raced past, screaming at the men by the waterside to stand still and that they were under arrest.

I kept running, head down, all the way to the top until I reached the black BMW that was parked behind the patrols. Zabel’s car waiting for me and the phone.

Three taps on the smoked glass and the driver laid out a fat palm. I passed him the handset and with a smile he started the engine.


Meal Ticket

“¡Myra, dos rellenos!” called the cook.

Gillian grabbed hot plates with bare hands and carried them to the only couple in the dining room. She’d never been with a Mexican, but the young man smelled like money, and she was due a new meal ticket.

“Dos rellenos,” announced Gillian in heavily accented Spanish. “¿Algo más?

“Not now, pretty lady,” said the man. “Later, maybe.”

Gillian smiled. “My name’s Myra. I’ll be here when you’re ready.” She winked. “Enjoy, Darlin’.”

The little brass bell on the door rang as two large men entered the little restaurant. Americans. Big city accents. A chill ran up her spine. They wore light jackets, despite the Chihuahua City heat outside. She watched them sit in the corner booth.

“Some fucking service over here?”

Oh, Fuck me.

She put a hand on her hip and turned, face blank as a bullet. The one facing her leered scanned her from sandals to freckled tits, but never looked at her face. A gold tooth flashed. One of Vinnie’s “associates.” She’d seen him from the windows of the house in Staten Island where Vinnie had kept her.

“Gillian,” said the one with his back to her. “Just when we we’re gonna quit looking, we hear about a pretty white girl hustling tables in this shithole town.” He threw up his hands and turned in his seat. For a bad moment, she thought the face was Vinnie’s.

“My name’s Myra.”

“Myra, Gillian, whatever. We got you.”

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. Y’all want somethin’?”

Gold-tooth grinned. The Vinnie look-alike approached. “That’s some mouth on you.” He grabbed Gillian’s face in a right hand like a butcher’s block and squeezed until her full red lips protruded like strawberries. She didn’t bother to struggle. Gold-Tooth chuckled.

“I’m Joey. Vinnie’s cousin. From Philly. He never mentioned me?”

He released her, patted her cheek.

“Look, Joey…”

The hand shot up again, and Gillian’s head snapped back. Blood from her split lower lip spattered on the Mexican tough’s white shirt behind her.

The Mexican was out of his seat in a flash, his face twisted in outrage. The girlfriend tried to grab his wrist.
“Mi vida, no!” she said.

“You like hitting women, cabrón?” The Mexican advanced on Joey, big in the shoulders but still a head shorter than the gangster.

The cook rushed though the flapping doors into the dining room. “¿Qué pasa aquí?”

Gold-Tooth reached into his windbreaker and brought out a flat black Glock. The cook vanished.

Gold-Tooth fired two rounds into the kid’s chest, watched him fall. His feet drummed a tiny flamenco on the floorboards.

Gillian held her apron against the split lip and stood her ground. Nowhere to run anyway. A pistol appeared in Joey’s hand. Gold-Tooth, still seated, scanned out the window.

“I hear Vinnie got a little rough with you, but that ain’t cause to spray his fucking brains on the ceiling.” Joey looked at Gold-Tooth and motioned toward the sobbing girl. “Such a mess somebody had to clean up.”

“How ‘bout some beers?” Gillian dropped the apron and let the blood run down her chin. Joey paused to watch it run down her neck into the space between her tits. “Cooler heads and all.”

Gold-Tooth had the Mexican girl by the arm. He raised his eyebrows and jerked his head toward the door.
“Relax. The chief of policía is still counting his money.” Joey pointed his weapon at the ceiling and stepped toward Gillian. She parted her broken mouth and gave Joey the look that, once upon a time, made Vinnie so manageable.

Stupid wannabe Sicilian fuck.

He weighed a breast in his left hand, and probed inside her bra with the muzzle of his gun. Gillian released a calculated, barely-audible sigh.

Gold-Tooth had the Mexican girl laid on the table between two plates of chile rellenos. He’d stuck the gun in his waistband and had both hands full of young Azteca flesh. The girl’s breathing was rapid and shallow, and she stared unblinking at the ceiling.

“The day I drink Mexican beer, just put a fucking bullet in my head. Bring tequila. We’ll get acquainted first, talk business after.” He holstered his weapon. “You must have a good reason for whacking a Family boss. You play nice, I let you tell me.”

Gillian went to the bar, bent and reached underneath, closed her fingers over the sawed-off 12-gauge hanging above the shot glasses.

“Y’all want a single or a double shot?”


A Measure Of Time

It takes 23.3 seconds to empty a 30-round magazine in my Colt M4 Carbine. How do I know that? Because I emptied one last night. And I’m here to tell you what happens in those 23.3 seconds.

How did I get an M4? None of your fucking business.

So, first few seconds is all about the noise. Three seconds gone and you’ve already spit out four bullets that are rocket-powering the distance between you and the target, in this case four guys you’d rather see dead than see Megan Fox go down on your dick.

The sound is almost enough to make you take your finger off the trigger, but no, you stick with it.

You hit four seconds, five and the bullets reach the mark. Those first couple of shots are really just finding the target, nothing to get too upset about when they do more damage to the cinderblock wall than the four bodies you’re aiming at. Now you’ve got the gun erupting in your hand and the added sound of the impacts coming back to you off the wall, PLUS the echo of the blast caps bouncing all around the alley. Chaos. Fucking chaos.

But you stick with it.

Six to ten seconds and you start to sweep the barrel of the M4 to the right. Don’t know why it goes left to right, but it does. Somehow in the midst of trying to aim, blocking out the sound, looking for bullet hits on the targets, you manage to wonder if lefty’s do it from left to right.

Eleven seconds and your first bullet hits the mark. Now, at this point it’s impossible to tell if this is one that left the chamber at eight seconds, nine perhaps. All that matters is the sight of his shoulder being punched back and a splash of red leaping up into the spotlight of the club’s marquee.

You pass halfway – up to fifteen seconds of solid shooting. Your finger starts to cramp. Ears are ringing, but you don’t notice because all of a sudden there is a lot to look at on the other side of the alley. The first guy has started to fall and is blooming red all across his chest. His hands are flailing up like he’s calling a touchdown.

The guy next to him made the sorry mistake of trying to duck when the shots first started. He also tried to run, but all he managed to do was bump his forehead into the ass of the third guy in line. That left him bent over perfectly in your line of fire.

The first guy’s blood spurts were cute by comparison. This is when, again in the screaming mayhem of the moment, you start to feel a little bad.

It’s night because it’s always night when this shit goes down. The marquee does a decent job of lighting the space between buildings, but the muzzle flash of the M4 pumps a strobe light into the alley and watching a guy’s melon come apart in stop-motion is mesmerizing. First shot goes in under his eye, next one across his forehead, third takes out a chunk of bone over his temple. It ain’t pretty but it’s goddamn beautiful, if you know what I mean.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen seconds and you’ve shot more than 20 rounds and the third out of four guys goes down. They start to pile up, one falling into the legs of another, destroying what little chance he had of running away.

This third guy, the fat one, takes something like six bullets to the chest. They all thud in and make a sound that comes back to you across the alley like pounding nails into a phonebook. He’s thick, but for some reason, probably it’s that everyone is falling away, you notice the marks of exit wounds on the alley wall behind him. Red dots and concrete dust.

Just when you think you’ve been shooting for five seconds or maybe ten minutes – it’s over. All out.

Guy number four is down and you don’t even remember hitting him.

Now you know. Get your own damn M4.


Brotherly Love

Jed Ralston sat at a corner table in Freddy’s Diner picking his teeth while he considered his next move. The meal the waitress served up was edible but what she offered for dessert sounded downright lip smacking. If you enjoyed her type. Jed’s tastes ran to higher quality restaurants and women.

He had it from a reliable source that Freddy’s was the last place his brother, Chance, had been seen. If it wasn’t for the broken fingers and toes, he might’ve thought the source had lied to him. Jed studied the waitress who was sitting at the counter with Freddy. He paid special attention to the hard look on Freddy’s face as the two of them whispered and nodded in his direction. He dropped a twenty on the table and headed for the door.

“What’s your hurry, Mister?” asked the waitress sliding into the space between Jed and the door. “Don’t care for the dessert selection?”

“Not particularly.” he said, moving to step around her.

Freddy grabbed Jed’s arm. “That ain’t no way to treat a lady, Mister. We don’t hold with strangers pushing our women around.”

Jed shook his arm free. “But it’s okay if we toss them twenty bucks and fuck them?”

The man waded in, both arms swinging, but years of practice landed Jed’s fist on Freddy’s jaw and he was down for the count. The waitress was bee lining for the back door, but Jed grabbed hold and spun her around.

“Three days ago,” he said. “The pair of you played this game on another man, didn’t you?”

“You’re hurting me, Mister.”

“It’ll hurt a lot more if you don’t tell me what I want to know,” said Jed. He pulled a picture of Chance out of his pocket and shoved it under her nose. “The kid. What happened to him?”

“I never seen him,” said the waitress. Jed twisted her arm up behind her back. The sound of the bone snapping brought a scream. “Okay, okay. I saw him.”

“Where is he?”

“How the hell should I know?” The bone in her arm broke through the skin and she was screaming again. “Mister, I don’t know anything more than he stopped here to eat and left.”

“Who’d he leave with?”

“Beats me. He drove here in a car, I assume he drove away the same way.”

“Now that would have been impossible since his car was stolen out of your parking lot by the young man he was traveling with.”

“How’d you know that?”

Jed smiled, “Let’s just say I have my ways.”

The waitress’s eyes widened. “Who are you, Mister?”

“Someone you don’t want to mess with.” He twisted her arm a little more, watching the blood drip to the floor while she squealed in agony.

“He didn’t have a key for that fancy briefcase cuffed to his arm so Freddy took him out back and chopped off his hand. He was gone when we went back to bury his ass.”

“Where’s the briefcase?”

“What do you want with an empty briefcase? We went to all the trouble of cutting off his hand and there wasn’t a damn thing in it.”

Jed pulled his gun. “Thank you for the information, ma’am. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

The waitress looked almost relieved until the gun was pointing directly at her. Her body slumped to the floor beside Freddy who was finally waking up.

“What happened to the kid with the briefcase?”

Freddy started to speak, but a glance toward the door whitewashed his face.

“Right behind you, big brother.”

Jed turned to find his brother standing in the doorway, a bandaged stump where his hand used to be. “You should have called.”

“I wanted to finish the job myself.”

“I can understand that, but you still should have called.” Jed handed Chance the gun and watched him put a bullet in Freddy’s head.

“You still have the diamonds?”

“Of course.”

Jed wrapped his arm around Chance. “I hope you weren’t too fond of Ricky.”

“Prick double crossed me, what do you think?”

“That it’s a good thing I killed the motherfucker. Glad to see you, kid.”


Tonight the Monkey Dies

Five words. Two on either end. Will framed.
No one will ever know.
*
-Hey, with that bed sheet wrapped around you, you kind of look like a Roman empress looking down on her people.


-Yoo-hoo. Your majesty….

-Hey. Are you OK?
-We shouldn’t be here.


-Well, I’ll admit…the Hyatt is closer to my office. The ceilings are higher in those rooms too, but this place isn’t that bad. Room service was prompt.
-No, I mean we shouldn’t be here. Doing this.

-God, I just never thought something like this could happen to me. I never wanted to end up like this.
-End up like how?
-I don’t know. A cliché.


-There’s nothing cliché about this.
-Oh, we’re lousy with cliché.

-Maybe it’s genetic.
-What? Genetic? What do you mean genetic?
-My uncle had an affair.
-So?
-It destroyed his life. Things were never the same with my uncle and my aunt after she found out about it. A few years later when my aunt developed cervical cancer? My uncle blamed his infidelity for it.
-That’s ridiculous.
-Karma.
-Karma? Please. This is our choice, honey.
-I know.

….
-Well, you know how I feel about you. I suppose I could just pull the brakes and stop but you know I won’t. Stopping this goes against everything forcing through me right now. The things we’ve done, the world is completely different for me now. It feels like I’m on fire, like I’ve been given this second chance.
-At what?
-Life.
-Easy for you to say, you’re divorced.



-Come back to bed.
*
-Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me. Oh. Oh my God. You’re—

-Look, I appreciate you coming down here to confront me face to face, I mean, if you’re looking to take a swing at me or something I’m going to tell you right here and now there’s cameras in this garage.

-Don’t do something you might regret. Like I said, ther’s cameras. There’s one right over there—

-Shit.



-What can I possibly say? That I’m sorry? Okay, I will be honest with you. I am sorry. I regret what I did, I’m mortified by it, but the truth is it was almost two years ago. In the end your wife saw it for what it was—an affair. It was stupid. Stupid and rash and stupid.

-Say something.

-You just going to stand there?

-Hey, look. Iin the end she came back to you, right? And Jesus Christ that has to mean something, right? She chose you, not me. I remember how she kept saying to me all the time that you were such a good man, that you didn’t deserve it, that she still loved you in so many ways. I’ll admit, at the time I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her to you, but when she called it off I’d hoped when she’d never tell you. That we’d keep it a secret. She promised me that she never would but these things…

-I guess they can eat at you.
*
NAME: ALOYSIUS (AL) P. (PAUL) DANFORTH
DATE MISSING: APRIL 6, 2011
DATE OF BIRTH/AGE: May 15, 1968 –
MISSING FROM: Washington, DC
HEIGHT: 6’ 2”
WEIGHT: 197 pounds
HAIR COLOR: Brown
EYE COLOR: Blue
GENDER: Male
RACE: White
CLOTHING/JEWELRY: Dark suit, Tag Heuer wrist watch, inscribed July 3, 2005
SCARS/TATTOOS: None
CIRCUMSTANCES OF DISAPPEARANCE: Danforth was last seen leaving his office in downtown Washington, DC early in the evening of June 3, 2011. His car was found in his building’s parking garage.
CONTACT: Washington Metropolitan Police
CASE #: 567980-D
*
Five words. Two on either end. Will framed.
No one will ever know.