Alberto’s

 “Dude, we always go to Alberto’s after.”

Alberto’s was south. Steve kept driving north.

Steve adjusted the rearview mirror so he could see Brandon in the back seat. Brandon was still holding his ear to the side of his head as if holding it in place long enough would re-attach it. He had his other hand over the hole in his stomach. Steve figured if he was dead his hands would drop. Other than the hands there was no indication Brandon was still among the living.

“You forget the part where Brandon got shot?”

Greg looked back, “How’re you doing buddy?”

Brandon made a noise somewhere between a whistle and a groan.

“I think he’ll make it.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? He needs a hospital.”

“I didn’t say he didn’t.”

“Then why do you want to go to Alberto’s?”

“Uh, Carne Asada burrito?”

“I know what you order asshole. I want to know why you want to go there instead of the hospital.”

“Instead? Who said anything about instead? We can hit the drive-through then take Brandon to the hospital.”

Steve shook his head and kept driving.

“Did we go to Swinging Dick’s Saloon? Like we always do?”

“You know we did.”

“Did we drink Abominable Ninja IPA by the pitcher? Like we always do?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Then we go to the Berts like we always do. It’s how we finish Friday night.”

“We don’t always decide to rob the Stop and Shop.”

“True but I don’t see how that negates my Carne Asada.”

“It doesn’t. It’s the part where the clerk decides to go all John Wick on us and shoots off Brandon’s ear.”

“Speaking of the clerk did you see that dudes head explode?”

“Uh, yeah I was the one who shot him while you were hiding by the slushie machine.”

“I get it.”

“Get what?”

“Why you don’t want to go to Berts.”

“Finally.”

“Blood makes you queasy, doesn’t it?”

“Just shut up. We’re almost there.”

“No, you shut up and turn this car around. I need my Carne Asada.”

Steve ignored him.

“I’m not kidding.”

Steve looked over to tell Greg to shut the fuck up and saw he was pointing the Colt .32 he stole from his uncle at him.

“You going to shoot me if I don’t take you to Alberto’s?”

“It’s how we finish Friday night.”

“You having a Carne Asada burrito is more important than Brandon bleeding out?”

“He’ll be fine. I bet he wants something too.”

Greg turned to Brandon who was still holding his ear to the side of his head so theoretically still alive, “Want some Berts?”

Brandon made the same whistle groan.

Greg turned back around, “That sounded like a yes to me.”

Steve pulled the car to the curb.

“Finally. I’m starving.”

“Give me your gun.”

Greg looked and saw Steve was pointing the Smith and Wesson .40 he used to blow the head off of the clerk at Stop and Shop at him.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking the gun you threatened me with and then I’m taking Brandon to the hospital.”

“I didn’t threaten you with it…”

“You didn’t?”

“Okay, I did but you know I wouldn’t shoot you. I was just fucking with you.”

“I’m not fucking with you. Give me the gun.”

“Or what?”

“Or I fucking blow your fucking head off.”

“You’d do that to me?”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck that. I’ve got a gun too. You give me your gun.”

Steve shot Greg through the eye.

Even though Greg was dead he took the gun away.

He looked back. Brandon was no longer covering the hole in his chest or holding his ear in place.

There was no reason to go to the hospital now.

After he dumped the bodies Steve pulled into Alberto’s drive-through. He knew he should be getting rid of the guns and cleaning the car but Steve was right. Alberto’s was how they finish Friday night.


Love or Money

“Love or money?”

“What?” the lead guy said, keeping his gun pointed in my direction. The second gunman stepped in beside him and aimed at me too.

I lifted the newly dead body up a little more by the piano wire wrapped around his neck, it was difficult, Enrique had packed on a few pounds since hitting the big time, “You here for love or money?”

They seemed confused, I couldn’t decide if Enrique’s body guards being dumb was a good thing. I wished I wasn’t holding him, so I could go for my own gun, or even better, if I had pulled him a foot or so further from his desk when I choked him out he wouldn’t have kicked over the bottle of Scotch.

“You here pointing guns at me because this guy paid you? Or did he mean something to you other than a paycheck?”

The first guy grinned, “I get it, love or money. Why does it matter to you?”

“Well, if you are just in it for the paycheck, maybe we can work something out.”

“Enrique always paid cash.”

“Either way, which is it, Love or money?”

“Me, it’s all about the money. Unfortunately for you, Enrique was this dude’s father.”

The second gun man gave a nod. I spent a long second trying decide whether to drop Enrique, and go for my gun, or use his fat ass as a shield. Neither would work.

“Bye asshole,” the lead guy said. He raised the gun some more and closed one eye, sighting up on my head, probably so he did not hit his boss. Maybe he thought with prompt medical attention they could re-attach Enrique’s head.

Enrique’s kid did not bother closing an eye and aiming. He just turned and fired. Aiming wasn’t necessary since he put the barrel of his pistol right on the other bodyguard’s temple.

I stood there holding Enrique as his son turned the smoking barrel my way. He held up his free hand and made a gesture I took to mean I should hold still. He then reached into his pocket and produced a smart phone. I almost smiled when he took my picture.

“Money,” he told me.

He seemed to be waiting for a response. When I did not reply, he gestured at the body I was holding with his pistol, “He fucked my mother, but from what I understand, he was hardly the only one.”

I said nothing.

“You might as well put him down, the wire is almost all the way through.”

I let him drop.

The kid kept his eyes on me, “Give me a number where I can reach you.”

I gave him a number.

He plugged it into his phone, then asked, “Love or money?”

“Money.”

“Good, I just came into some. I could use a guy like you.”

“You have my number.”

“Yes, I do. Later, I’m going to text you an address. It belongs to this poor bastard’s sister,” he said, casting his eyes to the guy at his feet with a third of his head, “after whoever is paying you for this settles up, send a good chunk of it there.”

“Feeling bad?”

“Hell no, every time he had something going on the side he routed it through his sister. Fucking moron thought no one knew. I don’t need anybody running shit on the side when I’m in charge, so he was going have to go sooner or later, so why not make it sooner?”

He paused to let me comment, but I had nothing to say.

“Make it enough so people will believe it was worth it,” he continued. “Otherwise, I start showing this picture around. Do it right, and I throw enough work your way to make up for the loss.”

“Sounds fair.”

“It is, even if it’s not.”

“I’ll leave the way I came in.”

“Leave however you want.”

I did not turn to look, but I’m sure he kept the pistol on me until I was out of sight.

I spent the hike through Enrique’s sizeable estate thinking my employer may have fucked up.


Prayer

“The usual?”

The reverend made his habitual over the shoulder peek before handing over the flask and a handful of bills.  He overpaid for his tin of whiskey to ensure discretion.  Judging by the looks he had been getting, he was not getting what his money’s worth.

It was still better to stay off the company credit ledger.  Rumors were one thing, but hard copy evidence he was still on the sauce would be another.  He had already been assigned him a church reserved for the lowest of the low.  If he screwed up serving a flock of miners and their unfortunate families at this outpost carved out of one of Jupiter’s moons there was no were else to go.   Veterans like him were supposed to turn this down, and opt for either an assignment deep in the church bureaucracy, or early retirement.  He, however, had taken the job, embraced it even.  The Reverend Glenn Halford still believed he could make a difference.  If they were ever a group a people who needed the word of god, it was the poor souls stuck inside this rock.

He knew he should stop, but also knew even a sober  Reverend Halford would make no difference here.  Given what he saw today, maybe his superiors would allow he deserved a few stiff drinks.

“Reckon they will keep the lights on a few extra minutes while they clean up the bodies?” Remy, the bartender, said as pulled down the bottle.

“I suppose,” Halford said.

“I’m guessing you didn’t know those boys.”

“Everybody knew them.”

“Well, yeah, I reckon so.  I meant they spent a hell of a lot more time here at the saloon than they did in church.”

“You would be right on that count.”

“I know it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I’m betting my tip jar and your collection plate knew them boys equally as well.”

“I’m not a betting man,” Halford said as Remy capped the full flask.

“No, I reckon not, if you were I’d know.”

Halford responded by reaching for his  whiskey.

Remy kept the booze just out of Halfords reach, “You figure those company men will be asking you about what happened?”

“Why?”

Remy smiled and shrugged as if he had no answer.  Halford knew this was bullshit, there was not much going on inside this rock Remy did not know about, and his feelings about this trio of company law men was common knowledge.  He was hardly alone, out here on this remote outpost these young and unfortunately easily corruptible young men had run a campaign of terror and extortion reaching every wet and dirty corner of this orbiting mine.

Only Halford had gone to the higher ups and registered a complaint.  Since the men running this operation were only concerned with quotas and expenses they could hardly be bothered.  If the transports were filled with ore, a young man nearly beaten to death trying  to prevent his girlfriend’s rape was not their problem.

“Who do you think gunned them down?” Remy asked, “Some of them drifters from the outer colonies?”

“I have no idea.”  Halford said has he grabbed the flask and quickly pocketed it.  The mine also served as fueling station for all sorts of travelers.  Given the way supplies made it to the mine, long layovers were common.  Without a company contract to hold them, drifters never stayed longer than they had too.

The door swung open and in walked one of the drifters, a big man wrapped in a thick black poncho with his wide brimmed hat pulled low so in the dim light of the bar he had no face.

“Don’t leave yet padre,” the drifter said as he bellied up to the bar, “I was hoping to buy you a drink.”

“What makes you think I want one?”

“Don’t worry padre, I reckon the barkeep can put your hooch in one of those coffee mugs and since I don’t have any company credit, this is going to be a cash transaction.”

Halford paused, but soon he was planting his butt in the bar stool next to the stranger.

“You know what the padre likes,” he told the bartender, “go ahead and pour two.”

The stranger waited for Remy to pour the drinks and then asked “You see what happened outside?”

“Yeah.” Halford replied.

“How’d it make you feel.”

Halford pictured the youngest of the three half his face removed with a bullet and the other half planted in the mud, “Why do you ask?”

“That ain’t an answer.”

“I won’t say they were my favorite people, but to die like that. . .”

“I figured you would be happy.  It is what you asked for.”

“Excuse me?”

“After the kids in your congregation, got assaulted you prayed them company boys would get some comeuppance.”

“How would you know what I prayed?”

“The same way you know the air inside this rock is cold, damp, and smells like old socks.”

“You sense it?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you claiming to be God?”

“Certainly not, I’m no fucking angel either.”

“Yet, you hear my prayers?”

“You put them out there, as means of communication prayer is pretty scattershot.  You never know who is going hear, or if anyone is going to hear at all.”

“If you say so,” Halford said taking in half his glass.

“You saying you didn’t pray for them boys demise?”

“No, I’m not.”

“So seeing those three dead in the street make you feel good?”

“Can’t say it did.”

“Satisfied?”

“No, I can’t say I feel that either.”

“I reckon you wouldn’t, those kind of things are only satisfying when you do it yourself.”

Halford, having no response, stayed silent, and finished his drink.

“Speaking of doing things yourself,” the stranger said, “the company boys weren’t the only ones you prayed about.”

The stranger looked at Remy who was edging his way further down the bar, “No need to go for the sawed off under the bar, you ain’t the one the padre had in mind.”

From under the poncho the stranger pulled a pistol, a big heavy chunk of steel, smelling like it had been recently fired, and set it on the bar, spinning the weapon so the handle faced Halford.

Halford said nothing.

“Don’t worry padre, it will do the job.”

“I pray for a lot of things,” Halford said.

“You going to make me do this one too?”

Remy  started to move closer to the other end of the bar.

“I know you are a company man, bar keep, but they don’t pay you enough,” the stranger said.

“What do you mean?” Remy said taking another step.

Another pistol filled the strangers hand as he spun in his chair.  Remy lunged for the gun under the bar.  The stranger waited until Remy had the scattergun in hand before putting a bullet in his face.  He turned back to Halford, who picked up the pistol and leveled it at the stranger.

The stranger put the other gun under his poncho and finished his drink.  He stood and turned to Halford, telling him, “I suppose a person has the right to change his mind.”

The stranger walked to the door, Halford kept the gun on him, but did not fire.  Before leaving he stopped and turned to face the reverend, “You can keep the gun.”

Halford kept the gun trained on the door until it stopped swinging, the weight of it began to wear on his arm, and he lowered the weapon.  The miners would be working for another hour, so unless another drifter wandered in, he had the bar to himself.   He went around to the other side and grabbed a bottle.

He began to drink, hoping he could muster enough courage to put the gun under his chin and grant himself the other wish.