Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Have You Got Any More Apple Pie?" by David Price

Brrrrr - Brrrrr - Brrrrr.

Damn alarm clock. I hate that sound. It wakes me up like I’m in a fire station. My heart starts to racing like a dragster burning rubber. It takes ten minutes just to settle down.

Tried to catch a little nap before tonight’s fight. Sometimes I wonder what the hell has happened to my life. I learned long ago that life is lived day by day. Find some pleasure in the small things and find it every day. Doesn’t really pay to look too far ahead. You may never get there.

As I look in the mirror, I see my sorry face. Haven’t shaved in five days. Never shave before a fight. In close that stubble can annoy when scrapped across a face, especially eyes. Always keep the hair short so there is nothing to grab hold of. All my scars are well healed. Doc will fix me up good just before the fight. He’s my best friend, actually my only friend. We’re both ex-USMC and way past our prime. We served together in Desert Storm. He was the best damn medic in the Corps. He’s been my personal physician ever since. Kind of a symbiotic relationship. We need each other to keep from sliding over the edge and off the world.

Need to eat something. Fight is set for 11:00pm. It’s now 6:00pm. I get a little steak to toss in the frying pan with some hash browns. When it’s done I throw it on a plate and pour on the catsup and Tabasco. It’s my little pre fight treat. The best eating I get. Never know when it’ll be my last meal.

The fights seem to be getting tougher. I don’t know how long I can keep this up. If I didn’t need the money, I’d have given this shit up a long time ago.

Tonight I’ll pick up $750 for “showing” and $1500 if I win. Doc always gets $250, win or lose. Sometimes he has very little to do, other times he has to put me back together again like Humpty Dumpty after the fall. It all evens out. I would never even try it if Doc wasn’t with me.

Tonight I’m ready. I’ve trained hard on the mats at the Y where every bad ass that drifts into town passes through looking to test the local talent. I do my own weight workout with dumbbells. I stopped the heavy lifting years ago. Now it’s speed work with perfect form, high reps and very little rest between sets. Stamina and explosion are the secrets. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue will make cowards of us all”. I work the hell out


of those fast twitch muscles so I can explode again and again like a human threshing machine. I have seen so many hard muscled, power guys fade completely if they don’t win in the first two minutes. I love the “Big Punchers” with the consecutive knockouts. They have never been really tested but they get so full of themselves that they stop training for stamina and then they’re mine.

I go about 225 lbs. on a 6’ 1” frame. I’m pretty solid but I’m no freak. My neck is my power and I can take a punch. Never been knocked out but I sure staggered something fierce when I caught a spinning back kick to the jaw from that Korean kid with the steel toed boots a couple years back. I was definitely on Queer Street but I hung on for dear life until the cobwebs cleared. He backed away to head kick me again but I knew his game, side stepped his attack and delivered my own “extra point” special right up to his family jewels. He was still puking an hour later. Doc and I beat a hasty retreat as his brothers, cousins and every pie face in town looked to turn us into kim chee any minute.

I’ll go by Doc’s boarding house about 9:00pm where he’ll begin to put me together for tonight’s event. Boarding house? Well, maybe I’m being generous. Perhaps half way
house is more like it. The place is full of alkys and dopers trying to get it together. Doc gets free room and board for being the on-site medic and part time counselor. He’s a guy every body can relate to as he has seen and done it all. They even look the other way when he falls off the wagon every now and again.

Knock. Knock.

“Hey Doc it’s me”.

Doc opens the door and welcomes me in. “Hey Sarge, I guess it’s about that time. You know this shits gonna kill us one of these days.”

“I know, but I need the dough. And anyway, you know I still love it.”

“I know, you’re one crazy dude. Sit down and let’s get you ready.”

I sit in the chair while Doc gets supplies out of his little cabinet. First he gets the liquid tough skin and carefully paints several coats over my eyebrows, covering the scar tissue until a protective layer is built up. I hate it when they split. Trying to see through that red curtain is a real drag.

Before I pull on my pants, I step into a custom hip girdle and rigid jock cup that Doc has constructed for me. The girdle has a hard cushioned plate for my tail bone and a jock cup that will disperse a direct blow but nothing can prevent that pain that makes you want to


roll into a ball. But, it sure helps. The best protection is not to take a straight punch or kick to those defenseless hanging oysters.

Then Doc tapes my hands to provide a little protection. These baseball mitts I have for hands are one of my best weapons. They are half again normal size and equivalent to a pair of rocks. The tape job is just to limit the split knuckles and torn ligaments.

“Thanks Doc. I got a bad feeling about tonight. I can’t shake it. Something bad is gonna happen. I’m really gonna need you tonight.”

“Man, you know I’ve got your back. Do you want me to stash my Colt in the gear bag?”

“No, they may search us going in and they have a “no gun” rule.”

“Ok, amigo, we’ll be alright. I’ll strap on Angel just so we won’t be alone.”

Angel is my custom fighting knife in a shoulder harness rig that places her right against the neck between the shoulder blades. She had saved my bacon too many times to count. Her element of surprise leveled many a playing field. Even a gun that isn’t actively firing is no match for her fury. When we connect, I damn well think she takes control.

In my jacket I carry my little “Persuader.” She is my version of a ju-jitsu pain compliance tool. Mine is homemade, a piece of steel rebar 8 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. When clutched in my fist, she is like holding a roll of quarters with the exception of the one inch piece extending below my hand. A well placed strike with the hard edge focuses all the power I can deliver in one spot. Such a strike can easily break bone and even kill like the compressed air driven steel rod used to kill cattle. Yeah, we are ready for just about anything.

“Well, I guess it’s that time, Doc. Let’s go.”

He grabs his first aid bag. “Okay, where we headed this time?”

“Downtown, a private parking garage on Dearborn. We’ll grab the “El” and get off at Madison. It’s only a short walk. We’ll grab our pre-fight coffees at Mary Ann’s place.

Mary Ann is my current crush only she doesn’t know it, probably never will. She manages my favorite late night diner, “The Last Cup”. She always has a nice smile for me and it really picks me up. We’ve been friends for years. I’m afraid to let her know how I feel about her. Afraid it’ll ruin this perfect romance. She really seems to care. Last year when I lost bad to a Russian mob enforcer, she let Doc sew me up in the kitchen. She hates the fighting business but she respects that I need to survive and it’s my only trade.


I zombie out on the “El” sinking into a trance. Plenty of time left to get my adrenaline jacked. Now I almost sleep while Doc keeps track of the stops.

I feel a nudge at my ribs, “Sarge, we’re here.”

I come to, look around and we jump up and step out of the door. The El’s fairly quiet this time of night. Very little commuter traffic going into the Loop. All the night club action is moving to the River District. For me, I like the Loop, tall buildings and alleys. A man can disappear down here simply by stepping back into the shadows.

Couple of blocks and we’re at “the Cup”.

This place is just a little hole in the wall. Mary Ann keeps it open till 2:00am for all the night owls. It’s one of those places that are a throw back to the thirties. Four booths on either side of the front door and a long counter with a dozen stools. No fancy food here.
Just the basics and plenty of pie and strong coffee. During the day Mary Ann has a short order cook in the kitchen but this time of night she runs it alone. She keeps it real clean but you can smell the scent of frying bacon hanging in the air anytime you enter. Some guys hang around a bar, even have a favorite stool. I learned the hard way that was no way to treat your body. No, a little diner like this is a perfect hangout for me.

“Hey Doll, how are you doing?”

“Sarge, Doc, don’t tell me you have a spot in that action on Dearborn?”

“Yeah, ‘fraid so.”

“Sit down boys and I’ll get the coffees.”

It’s a pre-fight ritual. A couple cups of Mary Ann’s strongest coffee with plenty of sugar to wash down my little pick-me-up. This is Doc’s own special concoction, ephedrine and aspirin washed down by caffeine. It never fails to jack me up. I don’t need much as my own adrenaline always kicks in at these things. Put it all together and I’m 25 again and ready to rip.

10:00pm. Time to check in. Doc and I wave goodbye to Mary Ann and we hit the sidewalk. Six blocks and we’re there. Up the elevator to the sixth parking level and out.

Soon as we step out, we’re met by the security manager. He knows us well. With a nod he waves us in but not without a comment, “Hey Sarge, when you gonna knock this shit off? You’re old enough to be my dad.”


“As long as I win more than I lose and I can still walk. I’m always up for a good rumble. You know that. Besides, I love it when a new guy blows into town and thinks he has a walkover when he sees me.”

“Knock em dead, old man.”

I’m set to go on just before the main event. The card started at 9:00pm with some new comers trying to make a name. These underground fights have been going on for over 100 years. There are always kids coming into town trying to earn some dough and ride the fight circuit. They come from all over. Parole jumpers, bodyguards, bouncers and just plain bad asses who don’t care if they live or die. A few bucks, some drinks, a woman and on to the next gig. For them it’s just a form of slow suicide. Nothing left to lose just like Bobby McGee.

On the other hand, I actually train, have a plan, a personal medic and a love of life even a small life like mine.

Geno sees us and comes over. He’s been setting up these cards for the last ten years at least.

“Sarge, Doc, you’re looking good. There’s quite a buzz about your match. This kid from Breaux Bridge has been doing a lot of jawing since he arrived and he sure looks the part. Right now we’re getting more action on your fight than the main event. Seriously, how are you feeling? You’re a big underdog. I’ve been taking 10 -1 on the Cajun. What do you think?”

“Geno, I always tell you, there are no guarantees. On the other hand, this guy could be made to order for me. It’s all about how he takes a punch, cause he’s gonna get hit.”

“OK, OK, sorry I asked. Go on down about 100 feet. I’ve got a screened off area for you to get ready. We’ve got a good crowd, maybe a thousand or so and they have come to spend.”

Geno has taken a section of the sixth level and set up quite a little venue, complete with bleachers and a bar. I can smell the oil and gas fumes clinging to the concrete pillars. The black tire marks reveal years of screeching starts and too fast turns. I love these outlaw setups. In a few hours all this will be gone just as if it never existed.

We walk down a ways and find the screened off ready room. Pretty big but all the fighters are in the same area. Always makes for a lot of whacked out psycho acts as most guys try to spook their opponent. As for me, I totally ignore em, never look at em except a stolen sideways glance. Actually turn my back on em as though they don’t exist. That really gets under their skin and pisses em off.


I’m always billed as “Sarge” and wear surplus cargo pants and an old Marine Corps tee shirt with my steel toed boots.

In the tent an EMT is tending to a fighter with a couple of broken ribs and an ear hanging by a thread. And he was the winner.

I see my guy in the far corner. He’s playing Jolie Blonde on his boom box. Asshole. Acts like he owns the place. He hasn’t seen me yet so I sneak a look. He’s big, thick with a bull neck and cauliflower ears. Word is he was an NCAA finalist on LSU’s wrestling team a few years back. He has a shaved head except for a Mongol topknot. Sure looks fierce enough but that topknot is his first mistake. It’s just the handle I’ll need to ride this bull.

Doc and I find a little corner where I can relax and get stretched out. These days I need to really stretch those muscles and joints. So many guys are ju-jitsu trained and they love those joint locks.

I’m a guy who survives by having a hard head, harder hands and a few tricks these young guys don’t expect. If I can’t finish the match in the first five minutes, I’m in trouble. The stamina just isn’t there any more despite my training. But for five minutes, I go all out and I can give you a hell of a fight which is more than most of these guys can handle.

Once I’m stretched, Doc holds up the padded mitts and I get some punches and kicks in till I feel good and loose and break a sweat.

My opponent tonight goes by the name “Gator”. He supposedly wrestles gators in a little road side attraction just outside Natchitoches.

He finally sees me and hollers, “Hey you, Sarge, you, ready for your lesson?” I pretend not to hear him and keep on pounding the mitts.

Again he yells, “What’s the matter old man, you scared aready?”

Now I turn to him. It’s time to provoke him and get in his head. “You can call me Daddy,
cause I’m gonna whip you just like you was a big mouth, wise ass little boy”.

He erupts, “Fuck you! You’re gonna cry for your momma when I get a hold of you.”

I turn away and ignore him but not before I yawn big like I’m real sleepy.

I’ve got him ready now. He will come out fast and angry. I hate those guys who dance around, feinting and dodging and looking for an opening. Give me a bull’s rush any time.


Geno comes over and says, “You’re on in five minutes. Be careful, this boy is real mean.”

“Ain’t they all?”

I step into the ring, actually a circle surrounded by a six foot high chain link fence around inter-locking rubber gym floor mats. It’s better than most. Anyway, if I go down to the ground I’m going to be hurting.

As we take our corner, I can see a real commotion as the betting on this one gets fast and furious. They delay the match a good fifteen minutes til all the bets are down. I had Geno put my last $200 on myself. At 10-1 odds, I’ll make some pretty good change if I pull it off. If not, I still get the $750 show money.

Here we go. The announcer calls the match and the ref yells, “Fight.”

There are very few rules to these matches; no eye gouges, no biting and no use of striking implements. We all wear boots or work shoes. No hard casts on the hands which can be wrapped. A mouthpiece is always a good idea if you like your smile and want to keep your tongue.

Gator is wild-eyed and head slapping himself into a frenzy. I do believe that boy has taken a little “speed” for this match. Okay with me, it just means he won’t know how bad he’s hurt until well after the match is over.

Gator comes right for me but with his head up in a semi crouch and under control. I momentarily take a boxing stance. He shoots for a single leg take down just as I had expected. I let him come and then in a flash, I push his head down to meet my right knee coming up hard. I catch him flush right in the face. It stops his forward momentum and he drops to hands and knees. I come down with a full force elbow on the back of his head.

Stunned as he is, he still manages to grab my heel and drive forward into my thigh. I expect him to drive me into the chain link fence but he rises up in a power squat leap that brings his head straight up to strike my chin.

A hell of a blow but I shake it off. He has me in a bear hug and is about to lift me in a suplex throw over his shoulder when I stomp hard on the arch of his foot. I can hear a snap as the bone cracks.

He roars, then smashes a hard right punch into my kidney. He follows immediately with an overhand right that catches me on my right eye and opens an old scar.


He has me reeling as he steps back and delivers a high knee strike to my stomach. Damn. That hurts.

I move in and deliver a right uppercut to his chin with my elbow. I catch him solid and he is rocked. I reach up and grab his top knot and pull it down to meet my right knee coming up hard. I connect good. I deliver the knee again and again pushing his head down with the built in handle. I can hear his jaw break and then I feel his teeth dig into my leg as his mouthpiece falls to the mat. Two more knee strikes to his face and I release my hold and deliver a full force elbow strike to the back of his head as I drop from above.

It’s over. Gator is unconscious and bleeding profusely from his mouth and nose. It will be months before he can fight again.

The crowd yells, then boos. A lot of money changed hands and there are some very sore losers.

Doc rushes in and grabs me. We exit the ring quickly as the EMTs tend to Gator. As we pass Geno on the way to the corner of the dressing area, he says, “God damn Sarge, couldn’t you have drug it out another couple of minutes at least?”

“You know my matches are fast, one way or the other.”

Geno reaches into his jacket and pulls out a wad of cash. He peels off $2000 for my bet and $1500 for the fight. I grab it and give Doc $500 and stuff the rest into my coat.

We grab our gear and glide out passed the security guy who comments, “Sarge, you are still one bad mother fucker.”

We’re on the street in a minute and moving away fast. I learned long ago to never hang around after a fight. Nothing good ever happens. Somewhere, some one is always pissed.

I’m holding a sterile pad to my eyebrow. Pressure stems the flow for now.

Doc inquires, “Mary Ann’s?”

I reply, “Yeah.”

A couple more blocks and we see the neon sign, “The Last Cup.”

I’ve never met a woman who understood me, but Mary Ann accepts me as I am, faults and all and that is as good as I may ever get. I have nothing to offer a woman but we have a special relationship without the romance.


I guess I’m kind of a hovering guardian angel, she just doesn’t know it.

We enter and there she is. A big smile crosses her face. “Hi Sarge, you don’t look too good. Had a tough one?”

“Yeah, but I’m still walking so I got no complaints.”

“That eye needs some attention. You guys come on into the kitchen. I’ll get some hot water.”

She never asks about the fights or whether I have won or lost. She is just there when I need help.

We go into the kitchen and sit at the little table along the wall.

Doc says, “I’m going to need to sew this one, butterfly bandages won’t stop the flow.”

Mary Ann boils some water so Doc can sterilize his needles. In a couple of minutes he begins and sews me up good as new. I’m sore but all in all I feel damn good.

Mary Ann inquires, “Are you guys hungry?”

I reply, “I’m always hungry at this hour.”

We seat ourselves at our favorite place on the two counter stools nearest the cash register. We order our usual, ham and eggs, toast, black coffee and her famous apple pie for dessert. We sit and talk a bit but mostly we just eat and drift into our own private worlds. Good friends don’t need to jaw all the time. We know each other’s moods and thoughts and idle chatter just ain’t our style.

We’d been sitting there a while when I notice three ugly characters talking noisily in the corner booth. They are kinda skinny, wiry, with dirty hair, unshaven faces and tattoos showing on their hands, arms, and necks. They are twitchy and nervous acting. Definitely on something or in need of something. Meth addicts. They are totally unpredictable. Definitely people to stay away from.

I notice Mary Ann come back from their table and roll her eyes at me. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but their voices were getting louder and the profanity was increasing.

Man, I hate it when my internal radar goes off and I know trouble is on the way. I can feel my adrenaline enter my blood stream; my stomach goes a little sour, my pulse


quickens and I feel a little light headed. In a moment I will settle down to an acute state of readiness. With a little luck these fools will pay their bill and disappear into the night.
But somehow, I don’t think so. I get that feeling I had earlier in the day. Something bad is gonna happen. They just better not harass Mary Ann. I won’t take kindly to that bullshit.

I feel Doc nudge my leg. He has picked up on their action and knows from my pulsing jugular vein that I am already in attack mode. I nod. No words are spoken. We are on the same wave length.

If this blows, it’ll be three against two and they don’t stand a chance unless they are packing heat. Damn, I wish Doc had his Colt.

I know he has Angel strapped in her rig so either of us can reach down his neck and set her free. I reach into the pocket of my fatigue jacket and grip my little persuader. I squeeze her in my pocket. I am ready.

I stare blindly into my coffee and wait for the punks to leave or show their hand.

It don’t take long, they rise together and approach the cash register. They hand Mary Ann their bill and she rings it up. The tallest one hands her a $20 bill. She hits the register to make change and when it opens, they play their card.

The tall one reaches into his waist and whips out a Glock and places it inches from Mary Ann’s forehead.

“Step back from the register, bitch! If you play this right, you may live to see tomorrow.”

Mary Ann makes eye contact with me. I can see her anger. I only nod. She knows I’m in.

She steps back and says, “Take it all. Just don’t hurt anyone.”

Bad play on her part. Don’t engage punks like this in conversation. Just do what they tell you to do. You don’t want them even thinking about you.

The short weird looking one grabs her wrist and coos, “We wouldn’t think of hurting you, now would we Rings?”

Rings, the tall one, replies, “Well we could take her into the kitchen for a little one on one, get-to-know-you session. Would you like that sweetheart?”

Mary Ann’s face shows defiance but I can see the fear creep in. She answers, “Quit while you’re ahead. Take the money and go.”


Two customers in a front booth dash out the door. Only Doc and I are left, sitting just inches from the punks.

I look up and say, “Leave the lady alone. Those customers will have the cops here any second.”

The weird one pulls out a switchblade and pops the blade for effect as he points it at Mary Ann.

The tall one turns his head to me while leaving the gun pointed straight ahead.

“Maybe you should just shut your mouth old man before I split your other eye”.

Mary Ann leans just a few inches to her right so the Glock is pointing off her left shoulder. I lift my right hand holding the persuader out of my pocket and hold it at my side. I rotate my stool to face him and say in as meek a voice as I can muster, “Hey man, I didn’t mean nothing”.

Just as he smiles, I strike. I direct a full force right cross to the side of his head. All of my energy and weight come to bare as I launch myself from the stool. I make contact with the hard edge of the rebar directly on his temple. I can feel the bar break bone and penetrate his skull.

The gun fires into the wall. He drops as if shot by a high powered rifle. His gun falls under the counter away from the two punks. I know instantly that he is dead.

Doc has stood up during the commotion and released Angel from her womb. He stands directly behind me, obscured by my loose oversized jacket.

The switchblade punk squares off on me. “You’re dead, mother fucker.”

I open my hand and allow the rebar to drop onto my boot where it rolls off. Doc slips Angel into my now open hand just like a baton handoff in a 400 meter relay race. I never turn but lock on switchblade’s eyes keeping myself facing him. Doc and I have practiced this hand off from many positions. The secret is to never look down or back and give away the action.

I feel the parachute cord covered handle slip firmly into my palm. I feel Angels heat. She comes alive the instant we touch and now she wants to be fed.

Switchblade never sees the handoff. He is focused on my eyes. Eyes will never hurt you but what the hands are doing will. That mistake will cost him his life.


He jabs at my stomach like a fool. Don’t ever get into a knife fight if you don’t know what you’re doing.

With my left hand I slap his arm wide to my right. In an instant I sweep Angel on an arc into his exposed neck just above the collar bone and into the carotid artery. In less than a second I deliver two or three short jabs like the strokes of a jackhammer. His artery is shredded beyond repair and gushes like an Oklahoma oil well. He is unconscious as he hits the floor and bleeds out in just over a minute.

Doc is holding the Glock as the third punk crashes out the door and disappears into the shadows.

I look at Mary Ann and see the “thank you” in her eyes.

“Have you got any more apple pie?”

BIO: David Price is an ex college jock and retired probation officer residing in California. Writing crime fiction has been a recent hobby in his retirement. His work can be found on Thuglit, A Twist of Noir, The Flash Fiction Offensive at UP From The Gutter and Darkest Before The Dawn.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Workday" by Brian Haycock

It was Thursday afternoon and I was in a mood. I could feel the tension building inside me. I needed a drink. I needed to go out and run about ten miles in the heat. I needed to break something.

I was unloading pallets of crushed glass off the back of a semi. There was a thick cardboard box on each pallet with about a ton of glass inside. Rodrigo was in the trailer, setting them up for me. I’d pull up, shoot the forks into the pallet, lift, back off, turn around, drive a few hundred feet across the yard and set it down for Briscoe, who’d put the clamps on the box and dump it onto the conveyor that would haul it to the furnace. It was hot work. We were out in the sun, with clouds of exhaust smoke and glass dust in the air, the smell of stale beer and spoiled food hanging on everything. We were wearing long sleeves, jeans, respirators and sound suppressors. Thick gloves. Steel toed boots. We were sweating buckets. I couldn’t imagine why they would put a glass factory in Texas, but that’s where it was.

Gorelick walked across the yard. Mr. Gorelick. He liked to hear that. He was the foreman. He thought he was big stuff, bossing the help around. I pulled up on my way back to the trailer I was unloading and waited.

Gorelick came up to me and pushed his respirator aside. “Malloy, can’t you move it along out here? We’ve got three trucks in the yard and we can’t be paying them to sit around.”

“I’m working as fast as I can. I can’t help it if the trucks all came in at the same time.”

“Well, try to pick it up.”

I wanted to tell him I’d get more done if he’d quit bugging me, but I just nodded.

“And keep an eye on Rodrigo. He looks kind of woozy. I don’t know, the guy’s Mexican, he ought to be able to handle a little heat.”

I looked up at Rodrigo. He was leaning against the trailer wall, sucking air through the respirator.

Gorelick started to walk away, then turned and said over his shoulder. “I know you wanted Tuesday off, but I can’t do it. It's a workday. I don’t have anyone else to do your job, so you’ll have to come in.” He slid his respirator over his mouth, but not fast enough to hide a nasty grin. He turned and walked away, fast, as if that settled it. It didn’t.

My father was on death row in Huntsville, scheduled to be executed on Tuesday night. I wanted to go up there and see him one last time. I wanted to talk to him, but I was having trouble thinking of something to say. I figured something would come to me. I didn’t plan to stay for the execution, but I thought I might if he wanted me to.

I didn’t plan on spending the day driving a forklift.

I got back to it. We finished the trailer we were working on and Rodrigo stumbled out onto the pavement. He didn’t look good. It was hotter in the trailer than it was in the lot, and it was plenty hot there. Plus, there was no breeze in the truck. Rodrigo walked over to the spool table we had set up out there and hit the ice water jug while I unloaded the pallet jack from the trailer and set it up in the next one. I watched him pour some of the water on his head and push his hair back with his hand.

The horn sounded for coffee break. Rodrigo climbed on the side of the forklift and we headed across the yard to the picnic table in the shade of the overhang. Briscoe and the other guys from the yard joined us. Mulgrew, J.D. and Bubba. Every yard in Texas has someone named Bubba. We pulled off our respirators and gloves and sat there with our cigarettes and our dollar Cokes. Everyone was hot, tired and bored. Mulgrew started talking about his softball team, but no one was interested and he gave it up.

Then J.D. asked, “How’s your old man doing?”

I took a few seconds. They all knew how he was doing. “He’s all right, I guess. He’s had time to prepare himself.”

“Any chance of a reprieve?”

“There’s always a chance. He’s gotten two of them already. You know, there were problems with the trial, evidence that was thrown out, lost. His lawyer was a waste of skin. The guy was drunk half the time in court.”

I’d said all this a thousand times, but I knew the truth. The old man was guilty. He’d been a deadbeat who’d never done a thing for my mother except smack her around. He’d been a violent, abusive drug addict who never cared about much past his next fix. Including me. There were a dozen witnesses who’d seen him shoot that clerk in the Quickie Pickie up in Dallas. He shot the poor son of a bitch six times, then couldn’t shoot anyone else because he was out of bullets. He’d gotten a couple reprieves on technical grounds, but there wouldn’t be any more of those. Even the lawyers who were filing appeals for him knew the world would be better off with him not in it.

And if he got out, he do it all again. No question there. He’d told me that himself.

Even with all that, I wanted a miracle. I wanted him to live. I wanted him to go free.

“He didn’t do it,” I said. “It was all mistaken identity. Prosecutors know it, too.”

Everyone sat and thought about my old man. What he was going through. What it would be like to know that on Tuesday you would be strapped to a gurney and shot up with chemicals that would grab your heart and squeeze the life out of it. What it would be like to lie there listening for the sound of a phone ringing while your chest exploded. I’d been thinking about it, too. For a long time.

The horn sounded and everyone looked at their watches. We were supposed to get a fifteen minute break, but Gorelick had fixed it so the horn would sound a minute early. That was so we’d actually be back at work when the break really ended. Everyone got up and started heading across the yard.

I told Rodrigo I had to hit the men’s room and went inside. It was a warehouse facility with overhead doors into a large bay, storage rooms, no air conditioning. It had to be a hundred ten in there. I went in and splashed water on my face, just killing time. I came out and ran into Gorelick.

“You’re supposed to be working,” he told me.

“I had to use the facilities.”

“You do that on your break. You don’t sit around the whole break, then come in here when you hear the horn. Tell, you what, the world’s full of people who can drive a forklift. It’s not that hard.”

“I won’t be in Tuesday. You know why. Deal with it.”

“I’ll deal with it right now. You don’t come in Tuesday, you don’t have a job. How’s that?”

“I’ll take it up with Mr. Ravenow. He’ll tell you to lay off.” He was the general manager. Gorelick’s boss.

He didn’t like that. “You better watch yourself, Malloy. You’re going to blow this job like you blow everything you try. You’ll wind up right where your father is. Or worse. I could see you going into a conveniece store with a gun, coming out in a box. Fuckup like you, I could see that real easy. Tell you what. Get your ass back to work, and I’ll start thinking about whether you still have a job. Right now.”

I went out in the yard and started in on the next trailer. Rodrigo was fading, but he kept setting the boxes up and I kept moving them around. I thought about what I would do about Gorelick. If he wanted to push it, I’d be out of a job, and I couldn’t afford that. There weren’t that many of them around. But I’d have to see my old man, and the way they had it set up, I’d have to do that during visiting hours. I couldn’t go up there after work and get in, unless it was to see him die at midnight. I didn’t want to talk to Ravenow. I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere with him. He wasn’t big on helping out the workers. I thought maybe I could offer to come in, work the morning and leave at noon. Maybe put in a couple hours off the books to help catch up. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think I had much choice.

We worked our way through one trailer, started in on another. Three-forty, Rodrigo had to go to the men’s room. He walked across the yard like a dying man in the desert. I climbed up on the trailer, set up a pallet at the back, climbed down and hauled it away. I did that a couple more times, but it was taking too long. I wondered what had happened to Rodrigo. The way he’d looked I was worried. And I didn’t want more trouble with Gorelick. I did a couple more boxes, went to look for Rodrigo.

I found him in the men’s room, sitting on the floor with his back against the tile wall. His head was rolled off to the side and his eyes were closed. He was soaked. He’d been pouring water on himself to cool down, but it hadn’t helped. I shook him, but he barely responded. I thought Rodrigo would need an ambulance. I thought maybe heat stroke. That can be fatal. I went out to find Gorelick.

I found him coming out of the offices. That was where he spent most of his time in the afternoon. With the air conditioning. I told him about Rodrigo.

He thought for a few seconds. “I can’t do anything about that. The guy’s a wetback. We can’t call him an ambulance. He isn’t even supposed to be working here. Besides, what’s the big deal? He’s hot, he’ll cool off. Simple as that. I’ll just dock him until he gets back to work. You’ll just have to get out there and set the pallets up yourself. I don’t have anyone to help you. Get on it.”

“Rodrigo looks really bad. He’s barely awake.”

“He’s screwing around. Tell you what, you get back to work and I’ll go over and check on him. Right now.”

I went back out in the yard. Briscoe was leaning on the forklift, having a smoke. He’d pull the respirator aside, suck the smoke down and blow it out, then put the respirator back until the next hit. When I got there I told him about Rodrigo.

“Yeah, this is one mother of a hot day and he’s been in the trailers all afternoon. He going to be all right?”

“I don’t know. He looked bad, and it doesn’t look like Gorelick is too interested. He’s just pissed off at Rodrigo for slacking off. He said he’d check up on him, but I don’t know.”

“He won’t.”

“No. Probably not. How about, you give it ten minutes, then go in and check on him.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Well, we ought to get something done out here. At least Rodrigo is out of the heat. He’ll probably be all right.”

I got back into the trailer and set up a pallet, then climbed down and moved it over to Briscoe with the forklift. At this rate it would take the rest of the day to do this one trailer. I didn’t care. I was worried about Rodrigo and I was worried about how I would get to see my old man the day of his execution. And I was pissed at Gorelick. I could feel the anger building. Every time I set a pallet down I dropped it hard enough to watch it jump. I kind of wanted a pallet to crumple under the weight of the glass, just to see it happen. Fifteen, twenty minutes went by, I was lightheaded and dripping sweat.

Gorelick came out and walked across the yard as I was climbing down from the trailer. He walked up and pulled his respirator around to the side. “You haven’t got this trailer done yet? What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s hard out here. You see me, I’m working on it. How’s Rodrigo?”

He paused. He’d forgotten all about Rodrigo. All he cared about was that the trailers weren’t being emptied. “He’s fine. I’ll tell him to get his ass back out here, get to work.”

I knew better, but there wasn’t much I could do. I said, “One other thing. About Tuesday. You know, I really have to be there to see my old man. What I was thinking, I could work the morning, then put in a little extra time, you know, Wednesday evening. A couple hours off the books to make it up. How about it?”

“You don’t get it, do you, Malloy? No one cares about your shitheel old man. He’s a scumsucker. He killed one guy he got caught for, who knows how many others. He’s getting what he deserves, except it ought to hurt a lot more than it will. No one cares about him and no one cares about you. I talked to Mr. Ravenow. He doesn’t care about either of you or your lowlife problems. It’s simple. You come in Tuesday and do your job or you go home and stay there.”

He grinned at me.

I went white-hot with rage. Everything around me went red. I knew I couldn’t keep the anger down any more. I had to break something. Gorelick. I fought to stop myself but I knew I couldn’t. I could hear someone yelling. I thought they were yelling at me to hold myself back but I didn’t care.

The other men in the yard were running toward the warehouse. I forced myself to look over there. Just for a second. J.D. and Mulgrew were standing by the doors with Briscoe and a couple of the suits from the office. Bubba was lumbering toward them. Something was very wrong. They all went inside.

I knew it had to be Rodrigo. I started running. I ran into the warehouse. The men’s room door was propped open. They were all standing there, inside, staring down. I got there and pushed my way through.

Rodrigo was lying sideways on the floor where I had left him. He looked like he had settled onto the linoleum and tipped over. He looked like he’d melted. One hand was drawn up to his mouth, one knee bent. His skin was loose and gray. His eyes stared across the linoleum at the bottom of the stalls. He looked like he’d fallen asleep before he’d died.

I hoped he had.

“We called an ambulance,” Briscoe told me. “I don’t think it’s going to matter.”

“No, it won’t.”

I backed away. I walked into the yard and stood in the shade of the overhang. I‘d only known Rodrigo for a few months, but he was all right. He’d come up from Mexico and worked, tried to make it in a strange world. It was my fault he was dead. I should have tried harder to get help for him, but I’d let Gorelick push me around. I’d known Gorelick wouldn’t help him, but I let it go. I felt beaten. Hopeless. My life felt as mean and hard as the crushed glass that lay across the yard in boxes.

I opened my eyes and Gorelick was standing there.

“Listen,” he said. “We need to talk. You can have Tuesday off. Go up and see your old man. Do what you need to do. I was going to let you have it off anyway. I was just screwing with you, you know, pushing your buttons. Thing is, I need you to do something for me. Don’t tell anyone about what happened. You never saw Rodrigo in the men’s room. You never told me about him. It won’t help anyone to bring that up. We’ll both look bad. And I’ll just deny it anyway. Are we clear on this? You help me. I’ll help you. Right?”

My right fist felt like it would go right through his face to the back of his skull. It took him on the side of his mouth and drove him back into the tin warehouse wall. He bounced toward me and I hit him again. Then I threw a couple of left-rights into his ribs and followed that with another right to the face. I lost track. I was just going to keep hitting him until something stopped me, and there wasn’t anyone around. I stopped when he was lying on the asphalt in a pool of blood. I looked around. The yard crew was standing in the doorway with the suits, staring out at me. No one moved. I looked down at Gorelick again. He wouldn’t be getting up. Then I turned and walked away.

I didn’t hurry. I walked out to the parking lot. I thought I had a couple hours before the police got serious about picking me up. They’d spend some time at the scene, getting the details. They’d talk to the witnesses. They’d run me, put out an alert. It would take a while.

It was a two-hour drive to Huntsville. I could still make it during visiting hours. I could get in to see my old man one time before they took me in. It was the best I could do. I didn’t think I’d tell him about killing Gorelick. I wouldn’t want him to worry about me. I wouldn’t want him to think it was his fault the way I ended up. He had enough to deal with. Enough to carry with him.

I thought I’d tell him I had to work Tuesday. That would be enough.

BIO: Brian Haycock lives in Austin, Texas, where he has worked mainly for nonprofit organizations. He enjoys running (especially in the summer heat), hiking and reading stories of all kinds. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, Nefarious, Yellow Mama, Crime and Suspense, Blazing Adventures and other publications. Unlike the people he writes about, he is law-abiding and reasonably sane. Really.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Exile" by J.E. Seymour

“Shaping up to be a hot one, right?” This question came from a large black man curling a dumbbell in each hand. His shaved head was glistening with sweat.

“Seems that way, Teddy,” responded a smaller guy. “What’d you think, Duke?”

Kevin Markinson placed the barbell he was lifting onto the supports and sat up on the bench, slipping his wedding ring onto his finger. “It’s July, what’d you expect?”

“This far north though,” the kid persisted. “How hot can it get?”

He snorted. “You don’t want to know.”

All three of them turned when a scuffle started on the far side of the yard.

“What’s going down?” Kevin asked the two in general, not directing it to either of the men with him.

“None of our business, old man,” responded Teddy. “Six years, you haven’t learned that yet?”

“You know what it’s about?”

“New meat.”

Kevin glanced up at the corrections officers in the three towers, none of whom showed any interest in what was going on down in the yard. He got to his feet to watch, looking for any involvement by the screws, but there wasn’t any sign of that. The disturbance didn’t last long anyway, whatever it was. He went back to the bench, removed his ring again and lay flat on his back. “Joey, you wanna spot me?”

“Sure thing, Duke.” The little guy ran to the bench and stood, one hand on the end of the barbell, while Kevin lifted the weight, counting aloud as he went.

“75 pounds, old man? You trying to hurt yourself?” Teddy asked.

Kevin offered an obscenity.

Teddy laughed, and continued curling 75 pounds on each dumbbell.

When Kevin found his way back to his cell at the end of the day there was a young man sitting on a cot in the middle of the little room. Kevin blinked and looked up at the man lying on the top bunk.

“You have any idea what this is about, Robbie?”

Robbie rolled on his side and leaned over the edge of the narrow bunk. “They say the place is crowded, Duke, that’s all I heard. They stuck the new guy in here.” He rubbed his shaved head and grinned, showing off his missing front teeth.

The new guy was fairly light-skinned with dark hair cut close in the typical new guy style. Maybe 20 years old, with a brand new black eye. Kevin didn’t like the way they kept throwing him youngsters. Robbie had been sharing Kevin’s cell for six months now, and was just the latest in a whole line of baby-faced kids. He was pretty sure the staff thought he’d keep them in line, but this kid didn’t look like he needed anyone to keep him in line. He looked scared.

“What’s your name?” Kevin stayed on his feet while he asked.


“You don’t look like a Miguel,” snorted Robbie.

“Shut up Robbie,” Kevin said. He directed another question to the kid. “What’re you in for?”

Miguel looked up now, his dark eyes showing defiance, the fear gone for a moment. “I killed a man in a robbery.”

“Did you really?”

Miguel nodded.

“How old are you?”


“Twenty years old and you’ve already screwed up your whole life.”

Robbie laughed.

“Shut up Robbie.” Kevin glared at him, then spoke to Miguel again. “And they sent you up here, to little Siberia. A million miles from anywhere.”

Miguel looked around, as though scanning for the nearest exit.

“You know who this is, little boy?” asked Robbie, leaning down even further, almost to eye level now.

Miguel looked from Robbie to Kevin and shook his head.

“Big man here. Duke used to kill people for the CIA, didn’t you Duke?”

“Shut up Robbie.”

“So why’re you in here?” asked Miguel, his eyes wide.

“Some punk set him up, ain’t that right Duke?” Robbie rolled back onto his back and cackled at the ceiling.

“Shut up Robbie.”

“How many did you kill, old man?” Robbie was giggling.

Kevin stepped over the cot and leaned into Robbie’s face. “I’m willing to add to the count right now if I have to. Get it?”

Robbie laughed louder. “Silly old man. You don’t have the nerve.”

Kevin laid a hand on Robbie’s neck, right on the pulse. “All I have to do is squeeze.”

“Yeah, but you won’t. You’ve gotten soft, listening to the boss, following orders. You don’t have it in you anymore. I heard that you used to break out all the time, that there wasn’t a prison that could hold you. They sent you up here and look at you now, babysitting the new meat. The boss actually trusts you.”

Kevin raised an eyebrow. “Have I lost your respect, Robbie? What do I need to do to get it back, go after a cop? Cause problems for the boss? Get myself hurt?” He turned away. “It’s not worth it.” He knew what the rumors were. He’d been in the warden’s office way more times than anyone had any right to be there, but he also knew that the rumors were way off.

“Did you really kill people for the CIA?” Miguel asked.

Kevin sat on the stool in front of his desk. “If I did, do you think I could talk about it?” He studied the books lined up on the metal shelf. He’d spent the last six years collecting these, always first in line for donated books from local libraries, snatching the discards from the prison library as soon as they were available. He knew he was testing the rules by accumulating them, but so far nobody had moved to take them away from him.

Miguel finally noticed what Kevin was staring at. “What’s with all the books?”

“Some people actually know how to read,” Kevin muttered.

Robbie giggled.

The whistle announcing lights out in five minutes sounded, and the lights themselves blinked once, but stayed on.

“What, they frying somebody?” Robbie asked.

“They still do that?” Miguel responded.

“He’s messing with you, Miguel. They haven’t fried anybody here since 1914.” Kevin got to his feet, pushed his canvas shoes off with his toes, dropped the green pants to the floor, and pulled the green tee-shirt off over his head, all in one motion.

“You were here then, weren’t you Duke?” asked Robbie.

Kevin ignored him as he picked up his clothes and draped them over the foot rail of the lower bunk. Then he closed his eyes and started stretching, reaching, moving slowly through his Tai Chi workout.

“Don’t mind him,” Robbie said, twirling his finger next to his ear. “He’s nuts.”
Kevin resisted the impulse to tell Robbie to shut up. Instead, he worked on his breathing, slowing his pulse, relaxing. He shook each arm out, right down to the long fingers, then climbed into the bottom bunk and lay flat on his back, staring at the springs sagging under Robbie’s weight, waiting for something to happen.


Miguel was admiring Kevin’s vegetable plants, bent over, studying the green pods while Kevin pulled weeds.

“These are peas?”

“Yeah.” Peas were the only thing ripe up here, even this far into the summer.

“But they look like beans.”

“The peas are inside.”

“Oh. So how come you own this spot?” He waved his arms to indicate the small plot of land that Kevin was tending.

“It’s my court. I pay a lease on it. Only prison in the state that does this. Might be the only one in the country.” Kevin straightened up. “See that guy over there? He’s got a way to cook in his court.”

It was at this moment that Kevin spotted Jesus Montenga.

“Hey kid. Watchyou doing here?”

Kevin stepped forward. “Leave him alone, Mr. Montenga.”

“Get lost, old man. This is none of your business.”

“You’re making it my business.”

“What, cause the kid was standing next to you? Walk away.”

“Can’t. You’re on my property. You know how it works. This is my court.” Kevin figured this had something to do with gangs, Miguel was from the wrong one or some such nonsense. Kevin had no tolerance for gangs. He usually believed in letting people alone, but he was not willing to stand by and watch his new roommate get knifed in the yard, especially not here, in his garden.

Jesus Montenga turned his dark eyes on Kevin. “Get lost, old man. Less you end up like he’s gonna end up.”

Kevin evaluated Montenga. He was short, but muscled. Looked to be about 25, 26 years old. He’d been here almost as long as Kevin had, and fancied himself the boss. Montenga outweighed him, but Kevin thought he was probably not as smart. Kevin let his eyes drift away from the younger man to check the towers. The COs were looking bored, but watching. That was good. It wouldn’t go too far. He knew those guys wouldn’t cut him a break, but they probably wouldn’t let him get killed, either. That would mean too much extra paperwork.

Montenga’s gang was closing in now, four other guys, all dark-skinned like he was, all younger than he was, all probably armed, like he almost certainly was. Kevin was not armed, he knew better. He really was trying to get along in here, trying after so many years to just serve his sentence and get out in one piece.

“Look, I don’t want no trouble, man.” Miguel backed into Kevin as he retreated from the group. “I just came up here to say hello, that’s all. I didn’t know about no rules.”

“You’re stepping on my pea plants, Mr. Montenga. You need to remove yourself from my property.” Kevin lifted his eyes to the closest tower once more and saw the corrections officer up there talking into his radio.

“I don’t care about your stupid plants.”

“We’re both going to walk out of this, understand?” Kevin directed this to both Jesus and Miguel, although he wasn’t looking at either of them.

“I’m sick of you thinking you run this place, old man.” Jesus stepped forward, ground another plant deliberately under his foot and raised a shiv that had started life as a toothbrush, pressing the sharpened edge against Kevin’s throat.
Kevin wanted to lash out, wanted to sidestep and bring a fist down into the back of the kid’s neck, but he kept his eyes on the tower. How far were they going to let it go?

“Do it,” he whispered. “Go ahead and stick me.”

Jesus stepped back, his eyes clouding with confusion. Kevin took that moment to step sideways, raising his right arm to block and grabbing Miguel with his left at the same time. When Jesus swept with the homemade knife, he caught Kevin across the back of his right arm, just above the elbow. Miguel was not as fortunate. One of Jesus’s pals stuck him in the chest, and he doubled over. As Jesus and his crew slithered off, Kevin dropped beside Miguel, eyes still on the tower. The siren finally went off as he pressed his bare hands against the bloody wound at the bottom of Miguel’s chest. Every other prisoner in the yard dropped to the ground on their faces, hands looped behind their heads, while Kevin remained bent over the young man, who was starting to lose consciousness.

“Get down on the ground.”

Kevin heard the order barked through the loudspeaker, but he ignored it.
“Prisoners on the ground, face down.”

“Yeah, sure,” muttered Kevin as he maintained direct pressure on the wound, watching the blood ooze around his fingers. At least it wasn’t spurting. His arm was throbbing, and he could feel blood running down it, but he wasn’t going to let up on the job he was doing. He heard the booted footsteps before he saw them, the special operations team coming into the yard in their face masks and body armor.
“Get down on the ground.”

“This man is bleeding, you idiot. If I remove my hand, he will bleed to death.” Kevin lifted his eyes now to see the end of a short barreled shotgun. A shotgun. In the yard. His vision was getting fuzzy. That wasn’t right. Maybe he was bleeding harder than he thought. Or maybe they had used gas, but he couldn’t smell any gas. He was so focused on the corrections officer with the gun that he didn’t notice the one with the club.

“On your face, asshole.” This CO brought his club down across the back of Kevin’s neck and he fell forward onto Miguel’s chest.

He came up spitting blood as yet another booted officer kicked him off the kid, and he could actually feel the blood flow increase as his hands came away from the wound. He could hear somebody talking about medical attention, but the voices were fading. He didn’t understand that. He wasn’t hurt that bad, was he? The CO that had kicked him onto the ground was standing over him now. Kevin looked up into the man’s face. He was a seasoned cop, looked nearly as old as Kevin himself. He almost looked scared, but he was barking more orders.

“On your face, roll over onto your face and lock your hands behind your fucking head.”

Kevin looked at Miguel, ignoring the CO for the moment. The blood was spurting now, bright red. Arterial. Kevin reached for the wound, wanting to stop that bleeding. Then somebody whacked him on the side of the head with a club and he passed out.


When Kevin came to, he figured was in the hospital ward. He opened his eyes and shuddered. His arm hurt, his head hurt, he felt like he was going to throw up and there was not another human being in sight.

In a minute though, as he licked his cracked lips and considered trying to reach the call button, the big black man, Teddy, walked over.

“Hey old man, you’re awake.”

“I’m going to be sick.” It came out in a hoarse whisper.

“Not on me you’re not.” Teddy reached for a silver pan and Kevin leaned to the left and vomited until there was nothing left in his stomach.

He lay back on the pillow, drenched in sweat, and studied his surroundings. His right arm was bandaged. There was an IV dripping into the back of his right hand. The bed was completely surrounded by closed curtains, which explained why he hadn’t been able to see anyone.

“What you want to be a hero for, Duke?”

“I don’t. I didn’t want to be a hero. I was just in the wrong place.”

“You saved that kid’s life. He nearly bled out, but they patched him up. He’ll live.”

“What are you doing in here, Teddy?”

“I work here.”


“Yeah. I’m a nursing assistant. It’s a good job.” Teddy grinned. “Listen, I’m supposed to let the nurse know you’re awake.”

The nurse turned out to be a big white man, well into his fifties. He was carrying a clipboard and making clicking noises with his tongue. “Mr. Markinson. Feeling better?”

“Better than what?”

“Ah, smart guy. I get it. Okay. How long do you want to be here?”


“I can keep you here as long as I want. You understand? This is easy time, in here. All the drugs you want, no work, get it? It all depends on what you’re willing to pay."

“I don’t want any drugs. I don’t want to be here.”

“Suit yourself.” He shrugged. “You’re here for tonight anyway, because you’ve got a concussion. We put some stitches in your arm, it should be fine.”


He didn’t understand why a CO came to get him when the nurse said he could go. It was a youngster, with pimples on his face, no less. That was unusual here. There wasn’t a lot of turnover at this prison.

“Mr. Markinson?”

Nobody ever called him Mister. Well, okay, the nurse had, but nobody else who worked here had ever shown him that much respect. “Yep.”

“I’m going to need to put these on you.” The kid held out a full set of shackles, complete with leg irons and everything.


“Because we have to go see the warden.”

What was with this kid, with his apologies and his respectful attitude? Kevin glanced over at Teddy, who had just come in for his shift, staring open-mouthed.
Kevin decided to try to appeal. “Do we really have to do the shackles?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Fine.” Kevin brought his hands together in front of his body and stood while the kid slapped the handcuffs on, fastened the leg irons, and ran the chain around his waist.

“This way, please.”

Please. That was a hoot. He shuffled down concrete hallways, all of them smelling of mold and bleach at the same time.

The warden’s office was wood paneled and lined with bookshelves. It didn’t smell of bleach, more like cigars. Kevin stood by the door and waited as the young CO backed out as though he was afraid to turn his back on him. The warden didn’t look up, just continued writing. Kevin stood. Finally, the man behind the huge oak desk looked up over the top of his glasses without really looking directly at him.

“Mr. Markinson. Please, have a seat.” The man motioned to a large leather chair in front of the desk. “I’m sorry about the shackles. You know the policy.”
Kevin shuffled across the room and lowered himself into the chair.

“Would you like a cigarette? Camels, right?” The warden produced a pack and held one out.

Kevin got back to his feet and bent over as the man placed the cigarette in his mouth and lit it. Then he sat back down.

“How’s your head?”

Kevin shrugged.

The warden focused his gaze at Kevin’s chest now, as though someone had told him never to look a dangerous criminal directly in the eye. “That was quite a little adventure you had yesterday. You gave us enough to take Jesus Montenga out of here and get him sent to a different prison. He’ll be doing hard time in the special housing unit at Attica for a while. I appreciate that.”

“Sure you do.”

“The video we took will also result in suspensions for at least two of the SOG officers who showed excessive force in resolving the situation. There was no need for what happened to you. You were clearly not resisting, but trying to provide first aid to a wounded prisoner.”

Kevin didn’t respond, just kept staring at the man.

“The issue of prison brutality has been discussed for years, and nobody has ever tried to do anything about it. This is one of my personal pet peeves. I appreciate your efforts.”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “I’ll remember your sincere appreciation when I get my head kicked in by one of their buddies tomorrow.”

The warden hesitated. “I assumed you’d think I wouldn’t come through.” He held up the pile of papers he’d been signing. “This is your transfer. You’ll be going downstate, closer to home, into medium security with a population more like you, older, more sedate. It’ll be a nice change for you. Easy time. You’ve got less than half your sentence to finish and you’ll be done. Piece of cake.”

Kevin pulled against the shackles to lift his left hand and take the cigarette out. He leaned forward and tapped the ash into a glass ashtray shaped like a duck. "Sure. Piece of cake.”

“The kid will live.”

“That’s good to know.”

“I’m writing up a report to go in your permanent record, explaining how you saved the man’s life.”

“That and five bucks will get me coffee, by the time I get out.”

The warden laughed, but still wouldn’t meet Kevin’s eyes.

“When do I leave?”

“They’re sending a van for you today.”

“Can I get my stuff?”


Kevin hauled himself to his feet again.

The warden got up as well. “I really do appreciate what you did. I know you got hurt doing it.”

“Yeah, whatever.” He dropped his eyes. “Can I go now?”

BIO: J.E. Seymour lives in a small town in seacoast NH and has had short stories published in two anthologies of crime fiction by New England writers - “Windchill,” and “Deadfall,” and in Thriller UK Magazine, Shots Crime and Mystery Magazine, A Cruel World, Shred of Evidence, Mouth Full of Bullets, A Twist of Noir and Mysterical-E.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Trooper" by Justin J. Smith

I got a clear conscience about the things that I've done.

Outside the city the highway stretched like her arms begging for the needle. In the passenger seat she smoked a cigarette. Cancer out the window. Her lipstick left a pink mark on the filter. The sun was crawling back over the hills. Clouds in the sky. The horizon was on fire. We were hurtling towards it.

"How much further?" she wanted to know.

"We're meeting the guy at a spot about 40 minutes up," I said.

She was nervous.

"Can't you get us there any faster?" She scratched her arms.

"Do you want us getting pulled over with all that shit in the trunk? Do you want to go to jail?" Silence. "40 damn minutes, Cynthia. That's all."

"You need a shave and a haircut," she said. She looked out the window and sulked. Her body twisted and I caught a glimpse of smooth olive skin between her jeans and her polka-dot blouse. Always pretending she walked out of the 50s.

We'd switched the license plates on the car before we left town. A stolen avocado-green Cadillac didn't need any help getting attention. The chop shop had torn out the radio. The wind was our music, and there was no changing the station. The sunset threw golden amber at the landscape. We were flies caught in the sticky tree sap.

"Do you even know how to shoot?" She reached for the glove compartment.

"Don't fuck with that." I tensed up. "You never know. You don't know what's gonna happen when we get there. I don't know this guy. Only thing I know is he's a guy called Jimmy. That's all. Better safe than sorry, right?"

We were supposed to meet him at this burger joint up the road, a place called Skinny Steve's. I'd bet good money that Steve wasn't as skinny as we were. I hadn't had a full meal in months, and I wasn't sure that I could stomach a diner for much longer than a few minutes. All the sizzling and the smells made my skin crawl. Something awful about hearing flesh pop and sputter over a grill. I couldn't eat a burger no matter how much mustard you slathered on it.

"You're a real bitch, you know that?"

"Yeah, well you're a real asshole," she said. She had a pair of guns tattooed on her chest. They pointed down, like they were ready to take out her lungs any minute. Once there were mermaids on her arms. By then they were pock-marked demons. She gave them names. This is Lucretia, that's Criseyde. They were damned women. Made sense. They leered at me as the white traffic lines flew past. "Drive faster."

"We need gas."

"You didn't fill up before we left?"

"No, Cynthia, I didn't fill up before we left because we didn't have any money! I've barely got enough in my wallet to get us there as it is. I'll fill us up on the way back as soon as we've got the money."

She'd had curves not too long ago. Back when she was 19, writing poetry and falling for every guy with a five o'clock shadow, she had a habit of passing her love around. One of those guys stuck her with a habit. Another one stuck her with a baby. When it came time to choose between her blood and her veins, the kid got dropped off at Grandma's house and Cynthia went to go chase down some more brown.

I met her in a thunderstorm not long after that. I was sitting at my window watching the lightning when I saw her running through the rain like a wet dog. I grabbed my umbrella, gave a shout, and tossed it to her. Then I invited her in for coffee. She'd been following me around ever since. I didn't like the quiet much anyway, and you always needed more than one person to run a good scam, so I didn't run her off. There was a tattoo across her shoulders that said "Hard Luck Woman," and it was no joke.

Couple years ago I'd tried to help get her clean. I put all the heroin on the coffee table and took the lock off her door from the inside. I stayed awake for four days, every moment keeping an eye on her, the baggie on the desk, and the little black bag with the little black spoon and the little black lighter inside. I thought I could wait her out. I was stupid. By the end of the week she had me tying her off. Within a month she was tying me off. How? Why? It's her smile.

I pulled off the highway to a podunk gas station announced as "The Last Gas Before Baker," which is where we were headed. I went inside and gave the man my ten dollar bill. It was the last thing I had in my wallet. Everything else was spent, pawned or burned.

I leaned out the door and yelled to Cyn "Did you want anything?" She laughed for the first time in months. She winked at me. I got warm inside. She's the only girl that could ever make that happen to me. A look like that and I think maybe there's a reason to keep driving, a reason to keep breathing. We were going to get this money and pay off our debts and check into rehab. If we could stand each other long enough to get to Baker. This guy called Jimmy didn't know it, but he was our ticket out of the gutter. Salvation. Like my Dad used to say, Jimmy and his money were “the light of things hoped for.” I got the tank as full as a ten would do it, and then it was back out on the road.

I didn't see him at first. You'd think that black and white would be hard to miss in all that brown and gold, but I didn't see him. Wish I had.

It happened quick: flashers in the rear view, the siren, the panic.

"What did you do, Kevin? What did we do wrong?"

"Dammit, Cyn! You kept telling me to speed up and look what fucking happened!"

"Shit. Shit. Don't stop. We can't stop."

"Look, just calm down and I'm gonna handle this, OK?" I pulled over. She opened the glove box and pulled out the gun. "Put the--" The State Trooper was already making his way towards the car. "Just keep your mouth shut."

A tap on the window. I rolled it down.

"How's it going today, officer?"

"Well, I'd be doing better if I didn't have to pull you over, son. Do you know how fast you were going?"

"I'd guess about 70, maybe 75, sir?"

"I clocked you at 88." Cyn was fidgeting in the passenger seat. Sweating. "You all right there, ma'am?"

"Oh she's fine, she just gets a little carsick. Not real good on long road trips."

"I was addressing the lady, son. Are you all right?"

Say something. Anything. Say a word and get us out of this.

"You mind if I take a look around the car, sir? Pop the trunk for--"

A bomb went off a foot from my face. Couldn't see. Ears ringing. When I could make out shapes again I saw there was blood. Everywhere. On the car, on me, spurting onto the road. Trooper on the ground writhing. Instinct. Grabbed the gun from Cyn and took aim at the Trooper as he laid on the ground.

He might have been reaching for his gun. Maybe he was reaching up to stop me. I'm still not sure. His eyes were wide. He made a noise from the bottom of his throat, and I thought of those cows in the slaughterhouses.

I fired three more shots solidly into his chest. He convulsed for just a second, then stopped moving.

"What the hell are you waiting for? Let's go!"

I watched the color drain from his face. I thought the blood might never stop.

Eventually it pooled like our need and sat impotently, waiting to be swept away or, at best, absorbed into the dirt.

Back on the road. Pedal on the floor. Hope nobody saw us. We had to get to Steve's fast. And then? No idea. Take a back route home with the money? Maybe. We had to get to Baker, get the money, then we could stop and think.

Half an hour down the road Skinny Steve's came into view. Wonderful, a “classic style diner.” Cyn would fit right in.

“You're staying in the car.”

“Like shit I am!”

“Cynthia that was not a suggestion! I don't need you doing anything nearly so stupid as you did back on the road.”

“If I hadn't done what I did we would've been hauled in!”

“If you had answered the man's question we would've been fine! But you flipped! You're staying in the car. He's here in 10 minutes, I'm going inside to wait. I come back out, we open the trunk and trade it for the money, then we go. OK?” She sighed. “OK?”

“OK, you asshole, OK.”

Inside I sat in a booth. Waitress in an impossibly blue dress asked me if I wanted sugar in my coffee, I said I liked it black. Told her that if a guy called Jimmy asked, I was waiting on him. 5 minutes went by. The coffee showed up and it had a layer of oil floating on top. I saw myself reflected in it. I stirred and it disappeared into black and I couldn't see myself anymore. It was hot and bitter. 5 more minutes went by. I bounced on the balls of my feet. 5 more minutes. Half an hour. I told the waitress I'd be back and stepped out the door.

I was rounding the corner to tell her he hadn't shown yet when she ran into me. There was blood coming out of her nose. Hot tears. She threw herself against me and started sobbing into my shoulder.

“He took it.”

“What?” I took off around the corner towards the car, dragging her with me.
The trunk was popped and swaying with the wind. A red car was racing into the distance. Couldn't breathe. Maybe heard her yelling behind me. Ran to the car and looked into the interior of the trunk. With the avocado green color it looked for all the world like an umbrella blown inside out. Our package was gone. Jimmy was gone. We had nothing. From behind I heard a low moan.

I turned and looked at her. She was sitting on the dirt with her arms stretched toward me, looking at her empty hands.

BIO: Justin J. Smith lives in Texas. His work has been featured in the Rio Review and has been rejected by numerous prestigious literary journals.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Vig" by Dana King

Frankie Donato said, “You got Tommy Vig’s thirty large?”

“Sure,” Swede Forsberg lied. “You think I got a death wish or something?”
Frankie was one of those friends, Swede didn’t remember why he called him a friend. “Associate” was probably a better word. Frankie was all right to have a beer or three with, maybe head down to The Meadows and bet some sulkies. Not someone to confide in.

That was why Swede had no intention of telling him about how he’d lost the thirty thousand he was supposed to deliver to Tommy Vig tomorrow. Tommaso Vignarelli was his real name. No one called him that. Tommy Vig was easier and more accurate. Tommy was the strictest and most powerful shylock in Pittsburgh. “Vig,” he’d say. “Call me Vig.” Like there was no difference between his name and his income. The three points he charged everyone he carried paper on. The Vig. Juice. Points. Not interest. Bones don’t get broken over interest.

Three points didn’t sound like much to Swede when he went to Tommy after his cut of a hijack came up short. Mortgage companies got – what? – six, six-and-a-half? What Swede forgot – what he always forgot – was why he went into criminality in the first place: because he wasn’t a financial analyst. Mortgage companies get six percent interest a year. Vig’s juice was three percent a week. Every week, payable Thursday afternoon by three. Nine hundred bucks a week. Miss a week? No problem. The new balance is $30,900. The new vig is nine hundred twenty-seven bucks a week. Every week, payable Thursday afternoon by three.

Tommy gave Swede a chance to work off his vig for this week. Go to Baltimore, see a guy owed Tommy money for some flat panel televisions fell out of a container at Patapsco docks. Thirty grand. Tommy told Swede it would do him good to carry around that precise amount of dough. Give him a concrete image of how much he owed.

The trip was worth nine hundred to Swede. Drive four-and-a-half hours, see the guy, drive back four-and-a-half hours. Not counting expenses like gas, tolls, and lunch, Swede could gross a hundred bucks an hour. Not that he’d see any of it. He just wouldn’t have to give Tommy any of his own money.

“Meet me at Pimlico,” the guy told him. “I’ll be in the grandstand, paddock side.” Swede found him by the bar. Real boozer. Even his Daily Racing Form smelled like scotch.

“Have a drink,” the lush said after they were both sure who the other was and the money had changed hands. “On me.” Swede – who only drank when liquor was available – agreed, just to be sociable. One drink led to three, which led to an impromptu meeting of the Council of Those Who Drink Too Much and Stupidly Besides.

About the time Swede lost track of how many drinks he’d had, Vern Hanley – that was the drunk’s name, Vern Hanley – draped an arm over Swede’s shoulders and looked around the bar to make sure no one was listening to the pearl of wisdom he was about to share.

“You wonder why I spent all day in the bar? Haven’t put down a bet all day. You wonder about that?”

Vern answered all Swede’s questions before he had a chance to ask them. “I’ll tell you why. Seventh race. That’s why. Lucky seven.” Vern slurped down the rest of his drink and signaled for two more. “Sure thing. Horse is feeling fast today. Got some extra Wheaties in his feed, you know what I mean. Soapy Feet, or Soapy Wheat, or some soapy thing. Short odds, so no one will suspect a thing.”

The horse’s name was Soapy Pete, and he went off at 2–1. Even Swede’s limited math skills could figure this one. He owed Tommy Vig thirty thousand. He had thirty thousand in his pocket. Bet this thirty, win maybe sixty, pay Tommy the thirty he was picking up plus the thirty he owed him, maybe have a few bucks left over for a steak and some companionship.

Never take gambling advice from a drunk you met half an hour ago.

The horse with the extra incentive was a filly named Sophie’s Sweet in the eighth race. She won by three and paid three-twenty. Soapy Pete ran a gallant race and made up a lot of ground down the stretch. Came from six lengths down to catch all but the head of the seventh race’s winner, a chestnut named Box Cutter.

So when Frankie Donato asked if Swede had Tommy Vig’s thirty large and Swede said, “Sure,” he wasn’t really lying. It wasn’t that Swede didn’t have Tommy Vig’s thirty grand; Swede didn’t have Tommy Vig’s sixty.

Frankie hadn’t come up for air. “Still owe him thirty, right? I mean, besides the thirty you’re carrying for him.”
The last thing Swede needed was for Frankie Donato to remind him how much was half of what Swede owed. “Yeah, Frankie, I still owe him thirty, even after I hand over the thirty I’m carrying. That thirty’s not mine, has nothing to do with me, except to work off my vig for the week.”

“Take it easy, Swede. No need to get testy on me.” Frankie sipped an IC Lite and lit a cigarette. “It’s gotta hurt. What are you paying? Nine a week?”

“You know it’s nine. You just busting balls, or do you have a point?”

Frankie slid his empty glass across the bar for a refill. “What if I knew a way to get you out from under?” Real cool about it, like asking, “Is it raining out?” or, “Is your sister busy Saturday?” Trying not to sound too interested.

“Go on.” Swede’s last time listening to someone else’s bright idea was fresh in his mind. No point being too eager.

“I know a guy might be able to help out.” Frankie pulled his fresh beer toward him with one hand and pushed a buck across the bar with the other. Efficient.

“What kind of work?”

“No work. There’s this guy, he wants to get some money on the street. Willing to knock off some of the juice to build a customer base.”

“How much?”

“Half. Says he’ll only charge a point and a half.”

“You telling me you know a discount shylock? Does Vig know about him?”

“Not yet.” Frankie had this way of drinking, never lifted the glass more than he had to, brought his head down to the beer. Made him look like one of those toy birds, bobbing its head in the cold water forever. “Like I said, this guy’s just starting out.”

“All he’ll do is start out. Once Vig hears about him, he’s gone.” Swede thought about the possibilities. “Unless he brings some juice of his own.”

“What do you care?” Frankie said. “You borrow thirty from Sid, pay off Vig, then you pay Sid half as much each week. Or you pay the same and actually pay down the debt. So what if Vig hears about it? Even if he runs Sid off, or clips him, you’re out clean.”

This had potential. Frankie didn’t look nearly as drunk as Vern Hanley had, and Swede knew Frankie. They weren’t kissing each other on the mouth, but he was a stand up guy, as far as it went.

“He hangs in Wilkinsburg. Joint called Klimo’s. Look for him around nine. Tell him I sent you.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Why can’t I just be doing a friend a favor?”

“I don’t know, Frankie. Maybe because you’ve never done it before.”

“Go ahead. Be that way. If you must know, Sid says he’ll split the first week’s vig with me. You happy now?”

As a matter of fact, knowing Frankie would get two and a quarter from the deal did make Swede happy. It was nice money for no real work – free, really – and not so much that Frankie might be inspired to color outside the lines on something that might roll back on him if it went bad.

Swede thanked Frankie – not too much, kind of like that “Is it raining?” thing – and beat feet over to Klimo’s. Place was pretty busy for a Wednesday. Bar about half full, four empty booths out of the dozen. Lights on the half-shell made sure no one was identifiable from more than a few feet away.

Sid Kresge sat in the last booth, across from the men’s room. Hair combed straight back, moderate to heavy grease. Pinky rings on both hands, class ring on his right ring finger, diamond crusted wedding band on the left. Held an unlit cigar as thick as his thumb, never put it in his mouth.

Swede sidled up to the booth. “You Sid?”

“Am I Sid? Am I Sid? I don’t know. It depends. Are you in need of cash? Now?” Kresge looked Swede right in the eye through the whole act. “Yes, I see it. A man looking for cash always has that look. Yes, I am Sid. Sid Kresge. Have a seat, my new friend. I can feel it, the start of a wonderful relationship.”

Swede sat down and Kresge ordered a couple of drinks. Straight bourbon for Swede, B and B for Sid. Sid paid.

“I always pay for my customers. You’re going to be giving me a lot of money for as long as you want to. I can afford a drink.”

Swede sipped his drink while Kresge carried on about a woman at the bar, Arabs, how much do you think this ring is worth, why the Pirates never win, Israel, and whatever else crossed his mind. Swede looked around for some people, a crew, something to show Kresge had muscle. The man sat in a bar doing everything but wear a sandwich sign said “Shylock.” He either had juice from on high or he was the dumbest schmuck in the world.

“Let’s talk money, Swede.” Somewhere in Kresge’s ten minute monolog he’d got Swede’s name. Swede didn’t remember giving it to him. Swede didn’t remember saying much of anything during the wall of sound Kresge used as small talk. If he had, he didn’t see how Kresge could have noticed it. Maybe Kresge had more on the ball than Swede figured.

“How much you need?” Kresge looking straight at him now, all business.

“It ain’t like I need it, like needing it, you know,” Swede said. “It’s just I got some opportunities.”

“Right, I understand.” Kresge had a voice that made everything sound sincere, then ruined it with eyes that said whatever came out of his mouth was sarcasm, if you were lucky. “You don’t need it, like needing it, I know. You just like to support small businesses and would rather pay me fifty times what you’d pay a bank.

“Don’t say it. Banks and you don’t get along. That’s fine, Swede. You and I have no problem. We’re going to get along fine. You know why? Because I’m only going to charge you half as much as that guinea crook Tommy Vig. You know why? The golden goose, that’s why. There’s more money out there than any of us can spend, Swede, if everyone just takes their cut. Big if, I know. People are naturally greedy. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Tommy Vig’s bleeding you dry. Think of me as Sid, The Tourniquet. I’m here to stop your bleeding. Tell me how much blood you need.”

Swede figured he might as well. There was no other way he’d get to talk. “Sixty.”
“That’s a pretty deep hole, Swede. You’re smart to quit digging. I think you may be in luck.” Kresge fished around in a briefcase on the booth beside him. “Slow night tonight. I’ll bet I got that much on me.”

Swede almost spit a mouthful of bourbon across the table. He had it with him. This guy either had the heaviest connections in the world, or he was even dumber than Swede thought.

“Point and a half a week. When are you paying Tommy?” Swede told him fast, while Kresge snuck in a quick breath. “Pay me Thursdays at three, then. Make it easy to remember. Not tomorrow, right. Might as well keep the nine hundred, I’ll do that much for you.

“Here’s ten.” Kresge rummaged in his case, came out with a wrapped stack of bills. “Count it.” His hand disappeared back into the case.

“Here?!” Swede felt his bowels loosening. “You want me to count it here?”

Kresge stopped fooling with the bag long enough to hit Swede with a stare that would’ve done Tommy Vig proud. “I’m not going to let you take it home and claim later I shorted you.” The semi-retarded smile came back as fast as it had gone. “It’s okay. It’s dark back here, no one’s around. How long have you been doing this? You got to relax.”

Enough shylocks had bled Swede over the years for him to know they didn’t carry briefcases full of hundred dollar bills to pass out in public places. He really did have to regroup now. Kresge kept pulling money out of the case, piling it on the table, away from the light of the sconce. Thirty grand now. Swede excused himself to go to the can.

Kresge never looked up. “Take your time. I’ll be here.”

“All right,” Swede said between his teeth, “but put that money away.”
Kresge gave a look like Swede’s comment had been another in a long line of insults to his professionalism. He held the briefcase in one hand and swept the piles of cash into it with a flourish. “If it will make you feel better.”

Personal business concluded, Swede threw cold water on his face at the sink. He could be out from under when he saw Tommy tomorrow afternoon. Almost out. He’d still owe the nine hundred vig from the week just ending. What the hell, hit Kresge up for it when he got back. It would only add – drop the zero, add half what was left – a hundred thirty-five bucks to the weekly nut. No, not one thirty-five. Thirteen-fifty. Thirteen dollars and fifty cents. Peace of mind every week for the price of a cheap CD.

Tommy Vig would kill him if he found out. Kresge must have protection, or he’d be dead already. If Vig couldn’t whack Kresge, he’d dry up the pool of customers. Unless Kresge was so well connected his umbrella covered his customers, too. Not likely, Carmine Bevilacqua favoring a Jew over a paisan, but money was thicker than blood with these guys. The fact that Kresge was still walking around, flaunting his business like he did, was all Swede needed to prove he was connected. Whether he was connected enough to cover Swede wasn’t important. Vig might kill him for taking the loan. Vig would kill him – tomorrow – if Swede walked in without the thirty large he’d been sent to pick up in Baltimore.

Some concentrated thought, and world without debt called to Swede. At a point and a half he could pay off the principle. No more weekly juice. This kind of thinking had allowed Swede to pay $51,300 in interest on a thirty thousand dollar loan and still owe thirty thousand. It never occurred to him his weekly payment would still be as heavy a load as what Tommy Vig had been killing him with for over a year, because now he owed twice as much.

Swede spent more time in Klimo’s men’s room thinking on these prospects than he’d thought about anything since he’d spent that weekend with Carla Mitchell after she told him there was a chance she might – probably didn’t, but could – have herpes. The results would teach the value of patient thought – even faulty thought – to any man.

All that thinking saved him twice. Deciding to take Kresge’s cash would keep Tommy Vig from killing him for being short on tomorrow’s delivery. It also meant he was in the men’s room when Sal Imperioli came to Kresge’s booth.

* * *

Sal Imperioli had made a lot of money from the restaurant unions and Carmine Bevilacqua thought he was a comer. Problem was, Sal couldn’t get made until he broke his cherry, and legitimate hits were hard to come by in modern Pittsburgh. Established guys got what work there was. The territorial dispute between Tommy Vig and Sid Kresge was made to order. Carmine would loan Sal out to Tommy Vig to clip Kresge. Vig loses a competitor, Sal gets made, and Carmine solves two problems with one solution. A true win-win. Except for Sid Kresge.

There was a catch: not even Sid Kresge was dumb enough to operate out in the open without some muscle behind him. He paid a percentage of his weekly take to Carmine for protection, and to outsource the collection of delinquent accounts as necessary. A true Twenty-first Century solution.

Carmine didn’t mind taking pieces of both Kresge’s and Tommy Vig’s action, as long as they were both good with it. Carmine didn’t see any direct competition, thought Kresge was going after niche work, nickels and dimes here and there, accounts beneath Tommy Vig’s attention. Worst case scenario, Vig would clip Kresge himself, and no one but Carmine would be any the wiser.

No one could have figured Kresge would try the discount shylock bit, and undercut Tommy Vig’s rates. Even worse, that lazy prick Tommy decided he wanted some service for all the street tax he’d paid over the years, and came back to Carmine to get rid of Kresge.

Carmine Bevilacqua didn’t get to be the boss of western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio from Youngstown south, and the parts of West Virginia worth having rackets in by failing to seize opportunities. Tommy Vig was bitching, Sal Imperioli needed a notch on his gun, and Sid Kresge had broken the deal he had with Carmine by infringing on Tommy Vig’s action. The fact that Sid had no such arrangement with Carmine never entered into it. Tommy Vig was a made guy, and even the boss couldn’t afford to get caught screwing with a made guy’s income. Sid was just some schmuck who made extra cash from running a chop shop out the back of his car lot, wanted to put his money to work, and saw too many episodes of The Sopranos. He had to go, and Sal was just the guy to do it.

Disappointing Carmine was not an option for Sal. It didn’t matter that neither Carmine nor Tommy Vig told him why Sid Kresge had to go. Just knowing he had to go was enough for Sal. He followed Kresge for a week, learned his habits. The habit Sal liked best was the one where Kresge sat in the same booth in the same dim bar for five hours every night. Kresge talked to everyone who came by, never know who your next customer’s going to be, right? So Kresge never flinched when Sal slid into the booth and told Sid he had something for him. Two in the side of the head from a silenced .22 was what he had. The untraceable gun he left in the booth. Shell casings could be linked to the gun, but not to him, since he’d wiped them down and worn gloves when he loaded the magazine.

The contents of the briefcase Sid’s mortal remains were slumped over held no mystery for Sal; he’d watched Sid take cash out of it for a week straight. He wanted to move Sid’s body to get at the cash, but this was Sal’s first hit. Everything went smooth as Gina Feroce’s ass until Sal actually pulled the trigger. Now it seemed as though everyone in the joint was watching him. The waitress caught his eye. Two of the guys shooting pool looked up. Sal had almost convinced himself no one had heard anything – they hadn’t – when the men’s room door opened and Swede Forsberg came out.
Sal was in his car before anyone but Sid knew for sure he’d been in Klimo’s. Sid wasn’t saying.

* * *

Swede missed all this, practicing his thinking in the john. He threw more water on his face, hitched up his courage and pants, and left the men’s. Someone was talking to Kresge, maybe giving him a story the way they were huddled together, so Swede hurried himself over to the booth while Kresge still had enough money to bail him out. The other guy left before Swede got a good look at him and Swede slid into the booth next to Kresge. “Okay, I’m in. Better make it sixty-one even to get me out completely.”

Not getting an answer surprised Swede a little. Kresge must have heard him, hunched over the briefcase like maybe he was playing with the cash again. Swede noticed Kresge wasn’t moving at the same time he recognized the new smell in the booth. Swede lacked a head for figures, but it didn’t take Stephen Hawking to figure Kresge not moving plus the smell of cordite equaled one dead shylock. It crossed Swede’s mind this might be the longest Kresge had been quiet since he was born.
Swede’s first thought was to look unobtrusive and get the hell out. Then a second thought sparked somewhere in the far of reaches of his crocodile brain. Dim, but Swede’s brain didn’t have enough fuel for any idea to burn too bright. It was Swede Forsberg’s eureka moment, his apple falling from the tree, lightning hitting his kite. The only thing that could keep Swede from becoming Sid Kresge’s celestial pinochle partner was still in the booth: the briefcase with the money.
It took this previously unexercised part of Swede’s brain a minute to sort out the possibilities. The money had to be in the case. The shooter would’ve taken the whole case; he wouldn’t go picking through it. Everything Swede needed to pay off Tommy Vig forever sat in a briefcase not three feet away. The briefcase with a dead man sprawled across it.

The options were clear: move the dead man, or become one. He screwed up his courage for the second time in five minutes – the second time in thirty years, and first since the Carla Mitchell weekend – and pulled Sid’s body upright. Good thing Swede had just come from the john. Sid exhaled when Swede stood him up, scared him so bad anything not already deposited would have been public knowledge. He composed himself again, reached around, and took the briefcase. Left Sid where he was. He hadn’t bled much, and the best light was on the intact side of his head. No one would know until the waitress came by with a refill and learned a whole new meaning for the term deadbeat customer.

Swede didn’t dare look in the case until he had it in the car. He wanted to drive away first, but a man who’d bet thirty thousand dollars on a fix he heard of from a drunk he’d known for half an hour doesn’t have that kind of discipline. He counted the money, figured out he had almost sixty-five hundred to spare, and almost knocked himself out bumping his head against the roof of the car.

Happy ending, right? Tommy Vig gets his money. Swede gets out from under. Sal Imperioli earns his button. No losers. (Except for Sid, rest in peace.) Swede was so happy, he was thinking divine intervention. His luck must be turning, and he knew to ride a lucky streak. He rode this one all the way to the Meadows, where a tout he knew put him onto a sure thing in the third race. And the fifth, to recoup the unfortunate events of the third. And then the eighth.

A couple of strip car thieves found Swede Forsberg in his trunk the next Tuesday. He’d been shot twice in the side of the head with a .22 and his pockets were turned inside out, the mark of a deadbeat. Tommy Vig had his best collection week ever.

BIO: Dana King lives in Laurel MD and works at an undisclosed location in Washington DC. He has previously had stories published by New Mystery Reader and ThugLit, and has over 100 reviews and several interviews published by New Mystery Reader. This is his first story for Crooked.