Me and Deke were down in my basement, talkin’. He worked the counter down at my shop, and I’d invited him over after closing.

“When I turned fifty, I told myself I was going to get a new set of golf clubs. Running a plumbing supply business is hard work, and I deserve a little reward now and then, you know? Plus my last set was over twenty years old.” I stood and picked up a sand wedge that was leaning against my chair. Gripped it as if I was about to blast a shot out of a greenside bunker. “Went for the game improvement clubs. Used to hit classic blades when I was a kid, but the technology in these things? Amazing. Sixty gram graphite shafts. Low kick point for higher ball trajectory. Tungsten weighting, thin top line, smooth hosel transition. Cost some serious cheddar, too. Going to have to sell a lot of toilets to pay for them. But they’re worth it.”

Deke looked as if he wanted to say something, but I barreled on. Bad habit of mine. People were always telling me to slow down, but when I talked about golf, I got carried away. “Sprang for the whole custom fitting. Tried different shafts, different club heads. Ten different brands. Hit dozens of balls with the Trackman, got all the computer results across all the important parameters: club speed, ball speed, spin rate, launch angle. They even have something called the smash factor. The higher the smash factor, the better.”

I glanced at Deke. Seemed like he was taking it all in. “You play,” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Great game. Meet some interesting characters, too, that’s for sure. I had a guy in my regular foursome a while back who referred to each of his clubs as a different weapon. His driver was his bazooka. He’d get up on the first tee and declare, ‘Time to launch the ol’ bazooka.’ Then he’d send a screamer down the fairway. His six-iron was his six-shooter, and after a good shot, he’d blow on the club’s grip like he was an Old West gunslinger cooling off the barrel of his revolver. He called his four-iron his rifle ’cause he always hit it straight and long. His wedge was a scalpel, for its pinpoint precision. He called his putter his sword and after he sank a long putt, he’d wave it around and slide it into an imaginary scabbard on his belt with a flourish, just like some old-time golfer used to do.” I got up and demonstrated with the wedge in my hand while Deke followed the entire act with wide eyes. “That guy was a trip, all right.”

I stared at Deke, and he stared back. Awkward silence.

I began again. “Did you know that in golf, players call their own penalties on themselves? That’s one reason it’s such a great game, that sense of honor. I like to think I’m an honorable guy. In fact, I try very hard to do the right thing, and it bothers me—a lot—when other people aren’t as honorable, you know?”

Deke nodded. I think he was trying to say something again, but it was hard to tell with the strip of duct tape across his mouth. I had the feeling he’d get up and leave, too, if only he wasn’t hog-tied to his chair.

“So it really pained me, deeply, when I found out you were skimming some of my profits down at the shop. My margins are slim enough without my employees ripping me off.”

I admired the sand wedge in my hand. Thirty five inches long. Fifty-six degrees of loft. Sixty-four degree lie angle. Three point two millimeter offset. Twelve degrees of bounce on the heavy metal head.

Sharp leading edge.

I took my stance. Found my rhythm with a couple of waggles. Backswing straight, then slightly inside the line. Full turn, pause at the top, followed by a powerful hip turn as I exploded through the hitting area, connecting with my target in a smooth stroke meant to maximize the smash factor.

Deke screamed as his left kneecap shattered.


Too Few Heroes

If I were a mom-loving, apple-pie-eating, Chevy-driving American hero, I’d do something—anything, everything—to stop that anonymous guy in the front row of the movie theater. The one you see in the lead story on the network news. The one wearing camo pants and a neon orange baseball cap, with a semi-automatic stowed under the raincoat at his feet. The one intent on going out in a blaze of goddamn unforgettable glory.

The one who lurks in the back of every citizen’s mind whispering, “You could be next.”

I glanced around the theater at the other patrons eating their popcorn and Skittles, watching the previews. Tried to picture the ensuing terror. Predict how things might unfold, if the unspeakable happened.

First to go—two blue hairs, four rows up, voices too loud, chatting about something unimportant, their cats or their grandkids or a recipe for pot roast. Easy pickings to get warmed up.

Next, a gaggle of four teenage girls in the center, all dressed alike, sure to scream and squeal at ear-splitting volume. Such a terrible shame, those promising lives cut short.

Then a suburban family of four. Mom, Dad, twin blond, curly-haired girls, tiny gaps in their smiles from missing teeth. The parents would try to shield the kids, but that was a symbolic gesture only. Bullets tear right through flesh. The entire community would reel from this horrific loss. Flowers and candlelight vigils and memorial funds set up for someone else’s needy kids to go to college.

After those unfortunate souls were picked off, the targets would become random. Bullets spraying, ripping through the confusion, fomenting more chaos. Most of the moviegoers would try to flee, sitting ducks as they clogged the aisles.

The ones who stayed, those who dropped to their knees and hid behind the seats, thinking molded plastic and cushions could stop bullets, would be annihilated as the shooter slowly, methodically, moved up the aisle, mowing down whoever moved. Whoever breathed.

If I were a hero, I might think about charging the shooter, but here, in this situation, that would be suicide. Here, it would take ten heroes, all attacking at the same time in a concerted effort, to bring down a determined shooter with a semi-automatic weapon and plenty of ammo.

I scoped out the audience. Didn’t seem to be ten heroes in the crowd.

I closed my eyes and again imagined the scene. Blood spatter on the walls. Carpet turning crimson.

Mayhem. Bedlam. Pandemonium.

I wasn’t a hero. In fact, there were too few heroes in this world.

Good thing for me.

I rose, hitched up my camo pants, adjusted my cap. Then I bent over and pushed aside my raincoat.

Happy Birthday

Clay found the note in the cupboard, behind the spices but in front of the old margarine container where we kept the birthday candles. He might have been a no-good, wife-beating shithead, but he always remembered my birthday. A creature of habit.

He didn’t take too kindly to the note.

“Who the fuck is Duane?” he yelled at me, waving the scrap of paper in the air from across the room. I was waiting for him to bring my birthday cake over to where I sat at the table. My phone was ready, in case we wanted a few pictures as I blew out the candles.

“Nobody,” I said, still hoping my birthday would be a happy one.

“Nobody? Well, nobody says he can’t wait to see you again. Can’t wait to feel his lips on yours again. That sure as shit don’t sound like nobody!” Clay stormed over, leaving the cake behind.

“Just a guy I met. Nothing happened. He was making shit up.”

He got up into my face, his beery breath familiar. Sickening, yet familiar. “’Zat right? It don’t sound made up. Sounds like you been stepping out on me.”

Who would blame me if I did? I didn’t say nothing. I been around Clay enough when he’s like this. Next comes the back hand slap across the face. I braced for impact.

He wound up and smacked me. Creature of habit. I absorbed the blow best I could, stayed put in my chair. Clay stepped aside and admired his work, like he was proud of the fact he’d walloped a hundred-and-five-pound woman. One who’d kept her hands in her lap.

“Teach you to fuck around on me, whore.”

He’d called me whore so many times, I’d worry if he didn’t. “I wouldn’t have to fuck around, you treated me right.”

“I treat you right enough.” He inhaled through his nose, whistling slightly, and I pictured that tiny steam engine from the kiddie story, aiming to climb that big hill.

“Hell, you can’t even get it up half the time. Least Duane knows his way around a woman.”

I knew Clay’s tipping point, and it was in his rearview mirror. He slapped me again, harder. My head rang, and I bit back tears. It was shaping up to be one hell of a birthday, all right.

“Duane wouldn’t beat on a defenseless woman, you know. Wouldn’t need to in order to prove his manliness.” After a couple of slaps, it usually went one of two ways. A fist to the face, or a right-left combo to the gut. Since I was seated, I closed my eyes and steeled myself again.

Pop! A couple of knuckles found my right eye; luckily, the bone below took most of the impact. Nothing broken, but I’d have a shiner for nine or ten days. With Clay, even the healing time was predictable.

“That the best you got?”

“Taking it easy on you cuz it’s your birthday.” He laughed, and it sounded more like a donkey braying than a human.

“You’re becoming a pussy in your old age.” I paused, put a little panic in my voice. “Hey, don’t point that gun at me!”

I pressed the stop button on my phone’s voice recorder app. Then I tossed the phone on the floor, as if there had been a struggle.

Clay straightened, eyed me. “The hell?”

“I thought I deserved a nice present on my birthday.” I brought my hand out from beneath the table, the one holding Clay’s loaded Glock. “Last I heard, you were allowed to defend yourself if someone came at you with a gun. Even if you’re married to the asshole.”

“Now, sugar…” Clay held his hands in front of him like a shield.

“By the way, I always thought it was sweet how you remembered my birthday every year. With the cake. And candles, too.”

Clay’s eyes went wide as the tumblers inside his head clicked. “So that note…you wanted me to…”

I smiled. “Behind the spices, in front of the margarine tub.”

“You bitch!” He lunged forward.

I squeezed the trigger.

Happy Birthday to me.

Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!