Category Archives: Jim Spry

Bak Mei Dragon

The taxi’s air conditioning systems growls a rumbling counter-point to its purring engine. Hot air spews from slitted vents, washing over the old man’s face and hands. Sweat prickles on his skin. A single rivulet dribbles down his liver-spotted temple, over the creased flesh of his neck and beneath the collar of his pristinely laundered white shirt. Wilbur Fong’s cheeks are flushed from the heat. Subconsciously, he runs his tongue across dry lips. Tapping on the perspex screen separating him from the driver, asking for him to adjust the temperature, does not cross Mr. Fong’s mind. Instead, he thinks of deep brown eyes and sunshine smiles.
+++++“I’ll drop you just up there,” the driver says, his words the sing-song lilt of Hong Kong Cantonese.
+++++“You’ll have to walk the rest of the way,” the younger man continues, pulling his vehicle to the curb.
+++++Wilbur Fong looks to the rear-view mirror. When he meets the driver’s gaze, he nods in understanding. Despite his years and the cool control he’s exhibited over the past decades, he feels his eyes narrow as sharp as the bitter tang in his throat.
+++++“One more thing,” the driver says, breaking eye-contact to reach into the cab’s glove box.
+++++“Take this. Use it when you’re done. Mrs Wu will have someone waiting on speed dial 1.”
+++++Fong takes the cheap burner, slides into his breast pocket as he reaches for the handle. In silence, he swings open the door and steps out into the quiet, rural street. He does not watch the taxi pull away.

***

A cool breeze cuts through the night. Rain drops, freezing in comparison to the vehicle’s roasting interior, drive needle-like into Fong’s bare skin. He tucks his hands into his jacket pockets, balling knuckles into fists as he bows his head and walks into the deluge. Old aches and pains niggle his joints, pulled from slumber by the cold and wet. He ignores them, clearing his thoughts of the trifles of the body. His mind is consumed by the matter at hand.
+++++Fong traces a path memorised from maps and conversations in a back room that stank of cheap cigarette smoke and expensive alcohol. Cracked paving slabs and orange street lamps recede beneath his feet. He treads tarmac, avoiding the mud-puddle verge and the tell-tale soil it will leave gripping to the soles of his cheap, brown shoes.
+++++He moves with a younger man’s speed and a lighter man’s grace, navigating the unlit rural pathways until a shadow looms large amid the dark smear of night. Tree tops peek in silhouette above a stone wall that’s stood firm for centuries. A large gate, black cast iron, breaks the barrier with a mocking grin. Pin-prick lights, Cyclopean red eyes, glimmer sarcastically in the darkness.
+++++Wilbur Fong walks hunched toward the property. He crouches in the darkness. Thick plumes of air trace clouds from his nostrils with each steady breath. Intelligent brown eyes scan the fortress, identify security camera brands and models. His agile brain calculates angles, distances and motion ranges. His ears scan the night, disregarding the wind’s growing whisper and the steady beat of falling rain.
+++++Calculations complete, he doubles-back, cutting his trail in a wide half-circle. Necessity takes him across darkened fields. With every step, his inexpensive shoes sink deeper into frozen puddles. Mud and cow shit suck at his soles, his ankle. Trouser cuffs cling to his legs, draining the heat from his body. Fong’s fat mouth twists into a frown. The cold gnaws at his toes, biting with arthritic teeth. The old man focusses his mind, drives away the pain. It is the inconvenience that troubles him most.
+++++He reaches the wall; heavy stone blocks mortared in place. He can see from the materials, construction and weathering it has stood for centuries, protecting those within. The old man runs a hand across its rough-hewn surface, feeling the pits and fissure within the material. A smile almost touches his flabby lips. It is devoured by his heavy heart before it can form.
+++++Fong balances on one leg, unties his right shoe. He slips the article from his foot, places it in the deep pocket of his rain coat. He repeats the process with his left before wringing swampy water from his socks. These he also puts into his pocket, a couple inches of each end trailing onto his coat.
+++++Gnarled fingers brush the stonework again. Nails scrape and dance over rough mortar and blocks. His right arm stretches high, finds purchase on millimetres of the hard surface. His left foot brushes the wall. Toes first strengthened on the decks and rigging of a Kow Loon junk find an equal hold. With a silent exhalation, Fong mirrors the process, left and right. With spider-like dexterity, he scales the wall. Despite his advanced years and the added bulk of easy living, the old man rests high on capstones.
+++++Body tight against the coping, he takes a moment to survey the area. A broad, gravel-shrouded drive snakes through the property. Trees and shrubs stand sentinel in even lines. Their leaves and branches whisper in the darkness, air and wood in conversation with the tinkling of water. A flood-lit fountain stands before stone steps and pillars. Dimmed light reflects off marble, a seahorse rising proud from the basin. Fong allows himself to smile at the omen.

***

Fong descends, a spider in the shadows. A metre from the earth, he pushes off. Despite his silent landing, lightning pain bites his knees and hips. He sucks in breath, a harsh rasp swallowed by the wind. His brain races with chastisements for sloppiness, for bravado, for getting old.
+++++He moves through the grounds, clinging to deep shadows surrounding tree trunks. Before each run, he stares hard into the night, peering into the black. His ears twitch for the hint of company, his nostrils flare, tasting for the scent of trained dogs. Satisfied neither prowl with him, he follows arboreal cover along the rear wall.
+++++Every eight step, he moves closer to the Georgian red-brick. He ignores the tremble in his hands and the beat of wings in his chest. He scans windows and doors, his thief’s brain searching for signs of easy ingress. uPVC gleams slick in light spilling from dimmed fountain spots. Door and window frames secured tight against the filthy weather. His eyes turn upward, searching with foolish hope for an old sash missed in the renovations or the dark line of a forgotten bathroom window. Rain trickles through his silver hair, spatters across his olive skinned cheeks, but it is the creak of hinges that freezes him in place.
+++++Fong presses himself against sturdy bricks, almost feels his flesh meld into baked clay. He steadies his breathing, each intake a subtle and inaudible rasp. Dead still, stone silent, he shifts his gaze to the opening doorway.
+++++A young man exits. His dark hair is gelled back, the rakish style quickly succumbing to the downpour. He curses a stream of Mandarin-accented English. His eyes turn to the heavens above then to the covered porch way. He steps back between marbled columns, reaches past the Glock 17 strapped to his hip, pulls a cigarette from a silver case and slides it between his lips. A lighter’s flare illuminates his face before he bows his head and runs to the sanctuary of a nearby tree.
+++++Fong watches the boy move, feels the displaced air against his face and puddle-splash strike his naked feet. He counts four lethal pressure-points within easy reach as the gunman passes, considers ending the man’s criminal reign with an easy strike. His fingers flex then retract. His argument is not with some young recruit.

***

Black oak doors give way to a wide foyer. Warm lighting beams down from crystal lamps, the glow a match for the ambient temperature. A vast staircase, red-and-gold threaded runner positioned perfectly in its centre, takes centre stage, muting the marble and bronze statues and object d’art filling the space. The air is neutral, unlived-in. A single chair sits to one side of the hallway, an iPhone discarded on its velvet cushion.
+++++The device reminds Fong of the boy blackening his lungs outside. He runs through the maps and plans stretched out on that distant table, rolls cuffs of his trousers halfway up his shin, hoping the effort will minimize the spill of mud and water. He bounds up the fine staircase, ignoring finery and opulence until he reaches the door identified by a traitor now secreted away in Ha Noi city.
+++++Fong twists on a pearl-inlaid knob of gold. The device does not budge, but he knows the spared second pays off more often than not. Changing tact, he drops to his knees, reaches into his inside pocket. He retrieves a slender leather case. His fingers leave whorls and loops on the cover as he slides out pry-and-tension bars. His hands move in quick, juddering snaps. He catches first one pin, then a second. His wrinkled brow furrows deeper as he loses the hold. A curse ripples across his mind, admonishing himself for the lack of practice over the last few years.
+++++“I’d finished,” he whispers in his native Hakka dialect.
+++++A lock clicks below and footsteps clatter across parquet flooring.
+++++Fong’s instinct is to freeze, allow the threat to pass. He knows time is short, knows the job must be done by daybreak. Removing his tools from the lock, he rolls his wrists and flexes his fingers, aiming to improve his flexibility before reinserting the picks. The fourth pin lifts. The pry turns. A shadow falls across his work.
+++++“Uh, What the fuck?”
+++++Fong again buries the urge to freeze. He turns his head, a wide smile exposing teeth stained by red wine and nicotine. He offers a bow, short and sharp. When the kid doesn’t respond, he rises to his feet, rakes fingers through silver hair and slides picks into his coat pocket.
+++++“Ah, good,” he says, forming the words in perfect Mandarin.
+++++“Perhaps you can help me? I’m looking for someone.”
+++++He ignores the shaking Glock pointed at his chest, pretends not to notice the fear-stretched widening of the boy’s eyes. He simply wraps the fingers already in his pocket around the saturated shoe.
+++++“Freeze,” the kid barks, dropping into stance, gun braced in a double-handed grip like he’s a cop on some TV show.
+++++“What the hell are you doing here?”
+++++Fong smiles, lets it grow from his chest into a condescending chuckle. He holds out a hand, waggles a finger at the boy.
+++++“I told you, I’m looking for my granddaughter.”
+++++Fong grins, pulls the shoe from his pocket, tosses over his right shoulder. When the kid jumps at the clatter of leather-on-tile, Wilbur Fong shifts his weight, adjusts his position.
+++++“Listen,” the young Triad says.
+++++“Listen to me, grandpa, you put your fucking hands on your head and drop to your knees.”
+++++The Tong switches his pistol into his right hand, slips the left into his pocket. His fingers tremble around the black rubber case of his iPhone. His eyes flicker between Fong and the gadget.
+++++“I have one of those,” Fong says, reaching into his pocket.
+++++“Here, you’re not looking!”
+++++The younger man pauses, phone-hand at waist height. His brow furrows. The Glock wavers in his grip. A bead of sweat glitters at the lad’s temple, tracing a glittering path to his jaw. He lets the gun hand slide.
+++++Fong moves, left hand enveloping the boy’s right. A finger twist and the gun is his. A jab with his right sends the phone crashing into the Triad’s nose. Blood sprays and bone splinters. The gangster drops.
+++++Fong spares a glance to the motionless body before retrieving his shoe. He slips it into his pocket, turns his gaze to the younger man’s lifeless body then to the door. He raises the pistol, knows the time for stealth is done. The 9mm lock pick does the job faster than he ever could.

***

Nicotine and alcohol still stain the back room’s air. Thick clouds of cigarette smoke curl from an ashtray resting on a large mahogany desk. A single lamp illuminates the broad space, enhancing the twist and curl of blue-grey fumes and the waltzing step of dust motes.
+++++Fong takes the object from his pocket, turns it over in his hands. The nephrite dragon is perfectly formed, the stone majestic in its purity except for the right eyebrow. Even in the dim light he can make out the white, crystalline traces in the green stone.
+++++“You have the Bak Mei Dragon.” Her Hakka is perfect.
+++++Fong looks to the speaker. He can barely see her through the smoke and shadows but her silhouette was part of his life for thirty years. Through shadows and fog, he sees the salon curls of her dark hair, can pick out the high, slanting cheekbones and the narrowed stare.
+++++“Here,” he says, tossing the artefact over, unsurprised as she snatches it effortlessly from the air.
+++++He holds his tongue as the woman takes a second to examine the piece before handing it to another form, this one unknown to the old man.
+++++“So?”
+++++The word sticks in his throat. The overt display of emotion, of weakness bring the sting of shame to his eye.
+++++“Can I see her?”
+++++The woman’s laugh is the tinkle of breaking glass. The dark shroud of her hair writhes as she tips back her head.
+++++“Of course,” she says, leaning into lamplight, revealing eyes as sharp and clear as Fong’s own.
+++++“The job is done. I’m not the kind of monster who would stop my own father spending time with my daughter?”

Debt

The Doughnut Den was as empty as my wallet. A dozen squad cars parked outside and an armed response unit peering through scopes does that for a business. The ghosts of old coffee and fried pastries hung on the air. Two other guys crowded a white-topped table.
+++++“Listen to me, Yusuf,” I said, hands out and empty.
+++++“You don’t want to do this.”
+++++The young Arab, knuckles turning white around the steak knife’s handle, stared at me with goggle eyes. His narrow lips twisted at the corners. The tremble in his fist made my gut twist.
+++++“This is all I want, Dale.”
+++++Yusuf wrapped his fingers deeper in the white guy’s black curls. He yanked on the fistful of hair, raising his captive’s chin. A rivulet of crimson broke across the blade then tracked its way down acne-scarred flesh.
+++++I bit my lip, threw a look to the white and candy-pink tiles colouring up the floor. My left hand flicked to the bandage on my ribs, pressed away the pain from where the same kid’s knife went in. Phantom warmth of someone else’s blood trickled across my fingers. I remembered how wide and terrified Aisha’s eyes had been while I’d tried to stop the leak in her throat.
+++++“Yusuf.”
+++++The word came out as nothing but a breath, left a hollow in my chest as it fell from my lips. Platitudes, pleas for sense, crawled up my throat. Every single one died before they reached my tongue.
+++++“He killed my baby.”
+++++The Arab’s hand jerked back, pulling the goon’s head with it. Silver lines glistened under Yusuf’s eyes. His tears matched the slow-motion pace of blood spilling from his captive’s throat.
+++++“He killed my wife!”
+++++I took another step forward, angled my body as best I could between the shop’s plate-glass windows and my friend. I searched around my head for something that wouldn’t be construed as meaningless bull shit. I came up short.
+++++“Don’t let him ruin your life, Yusuf.”
+++++Tension slipped from the Arab’s shoulders. His white teeth flashed in a smile that looked almost natural. He shook his head a fraction, resecured his grip on the mook’s scalp.
+++++“He made you watch Aisha die. He let you bleed out in some stinking back alley. Why are you trying to save him, Dale?”
+++++I let my hands drop, let the memories of cold concrete, stale piss and trying to hold my intestines into my gut flood back. I let myself remember holding a young woman’s hand as I pressed sweatshop t-shirts against her throat, let the memory of staring at a dead girl’s baby-swollen belly crawl black and cancerous through my skull.
+++++“If I’d found him first, he’d be dead already,” I said, knuckles cracking as I clenched my fists.
+++++“I’m not letting this piece of shit ruin another life.”
+++++“Thank you Dale,” Yusuf said, the warmth of his smile chilling my insides.
+++++“But only Allah can save me now.”
+++++Yusuf’s blade flashed under fluorescent lights.
+++++I leapt forward, screaming mad nothings as his knife bit the guy’s neck. Steel pierced flesh. Crimson sprayed from a severed artery. Somewhere behind me glass shattered, ripped apart by a police marksman’s 7.62 round. I crashed into Yusuf, momentum knocking us both to the floor.
+++++“Yusuf?”
+++++Struggling to my knees, I screamed his name. I grabbed the collar of his simple white shirt, turned his head so I could see his face.
+++++“Yusuf.”
+++++An angry third eye burned in the centre of his forehead, a single red tear crawling across his brow. Stunned, I rocked back onto my haunches, slipped my hand inside his and hoped his god saw fit to reunite him with his family.

Tuesday

“You been drinking?”
+++++She hit me with those big baby blues, looked away quick. I guess she hoped I hadn’t noticed the redness around her eyes, the liquid tension etched at the corner of her stare.
+++++“A little,” she said, aiming the comment more at her dull, brown carpet than me.
+++++“You okay?” I asked.
+++++She sniffed hard. A breath of chill air rattled through her sinuses, shook a load of liquid mucus.
+++++“Sure. Sure I am,” she lied.
+++++Lines of mercury danced above her mascara-bare lashes. Her right shoulder twitched, maybe like she wanted to wipe away the saline tell. Her cheeks reddened a little. She kept her hands clasped behind her back. I hadn’t noticed they were out of sight.
+++++“You want a beer? Some coffee? I think I have some of that Brazilian stuff you like.”
+++++Her face cracked a smile about as genuine as her purple cow-print onsie. Her unpainted lips twitched and tightened as the question stretched out unanswered. Something on the mahogany coffee table caught her attention. Her shoulders curled under the weight of observation.
+++++“Sorry,” I said, taking my turn with a plastic grin.
+++++“Coffee ‘d be great.”
+++++Lines deepened across her forehead and around the baby blues that found my grey. Her mouth twitched at the corner as advantage in our little game of bull shit changed again.
+++++“Cool,” she said.
+++++She flicked her head as she turned, fanning her hair in a golden arc. The conjurer’s trick failed as she used her body to block my view of whatever she held. I reached out, laid a hand on her shoulder. I gripped hard enough to make her wince.
+++++“Jenny?”
+++++A gentle shrug shifted my grasp. I let my hand drop to my side as her body shrank in on itself. A second inhalation, still chock full of emotion and snot, slithered through her darkened lounge. Her back to me, she raised her right hand.
+++++My throat went dry at the length of pink, nylon washing line dangling from her fist. Its noose-twisted end swung like a pendulum counting out her time.
+++++“Jen?”
+++++Numb from the chest out, I took another step forward. I wrapped an arm around her waist and my free hand around hers. Our fingers merged into a single fist. Her shoulders shuddered against my chest.
+++++“I don’t see you so much any more.”
+++++“Sshh…” I cooed, nuzzling my cheek against hers. Jen’s hot tears lubricated the patchy, three-day growth on my face.
+++++“Come on.”
+++++I ran my hand up her side, traced the underside of her arm until our hands joined. Silent, I led her through her darkened house, felt her Siamese brush past us on the stairs. Guided by memories that couldn’t puncture the igneous tumour in my ribs, I led her to the double bed we’d shared so many times before.
+++++Fully-clothed, we slipped onto the mattress, snuggled together on a purple duvet that had spent most of our encounters stained and crumpled on the bedroom floor. She pulled her body tight against mine. I wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her tight. The beat of her heart rippled through my body, couldn’t reawaken the dead slab of meat in my chest.
+++++“Tell me,” I whispered, brushing my lips against the warm flesh an inch below her ear.
+++++She wriggled enough to get some space, loosening my hold. A minute passed, silent but for Caspar the cat mewling somewhere in the blackness. I tried again with the kiss on her neck. She angled away so I got a mouthful of hair.
+++++“It’s not like I’m suicidal…”
+++++I let her words hang, tried to stop reflexively re-tightening my grip on her soft tummy. My granite block cracked from the strain of keeping my eyes dry.
+++++“I mean sure, I had the rope. I wasn’t going to use it. I wasn’t going to tie it to the bannister or anything. I just wandered what it would be like, how it would feel cutting into my throat. Would I panic as my eyes bulged and my lungs burned? Could I go through with it?”
+++++Her words danced black with menace in the still, cold air. I closed my eyes against the taunt, pulled her close to my body. Relief seared tension from my muscles as she pushed herself against me, wrapping her fingers in mine.
+++++“But you’re back now. I don’t need to find out.”

*

The clock on her night stand read 04:00 when I slid my arm from beneath her sleeping body. In the wan light, I took a final look at her pretty face. My first genuine smile in longer than I could remember twitched across my lips at her soft, rasping snore. A trickle of saliva glistened from the corner of a mouth I was desperate to kiss.
+++++I eased myself from her bed, careful not to make the springs squeak. I took the noose instead of granting my last request. With practiced footfalls, I crept downstairs, avoiding loose boards I’d memorised long ago.
+++++I paused at the front door, remembered the times we’d slouched on her sofa, laughed at shitty TV and made love in every inch of her property. I stepped into the wind and rain before ghosts of arguments and harsh words snapped in my mind.
+++++Nylon cord tight in my hand, I strolled slowly through empty streets. Icy rain diluted the salt streaks in my beard. My teeth chattered. High, black railing speared the night sky, protecting the cemetary from the outside world. I struggled with frozen fingers to make a knot, slipped Jenny’s last gift over my head.
+++++Maybe she’d never forgive me for leaving, but she’d hate me too much to follow.

Black Ops

The first wall had been easy; grab, lift, climb. Dropping down behind
a sprawling lilac just as simple. The red-eyed Doberman, big and sleek
and sniffing like a super model at a mirror, that was a different
story.
+++++Lungs burning from caged-in breath, I shifted slightly behind the
bush, reached into my jacket pocket. Gentle as a new mother stroking
her baby, I danced my fingers against the pen-thin sliver of plastic,
drew it out with mime-slow movement. The big mutt, ears fine-tuned
beyond anything I’d used out East, took another big gulp of night air,
growled a little from deep in its belly then took a quick, confident
step in my direction.
+++++“Here boy”, I whispered.
+++++The hell-mutt snarled as I stepped out from behind the tree, shot up
its hackles as I held out my hand and dropped to my belly. A second
growl, longer, deeper, ripped the night like a rusted bayonet. The
beast took a couple more tentative steps toward me.
+++++“Good dog,” I whispered, guts flipping at the thought of it barking.
+++++Pulse rate jumping, I lay on the ground, waiting. Head tilted to give
me a view, hands spread slightly by my head, I watched it come closer,
circle me. Its musty, drizzle damp coat stank of wet wool.
+++++“Good dog.”
+++++Wet grass soaked through my t-shirt. The rich smell of sodden earth
clogging my throat, I let the Doberman sniff me over. The big beast’s
nose probed my face, my ears. Its low, threatening voice told me if I
liked breathing, I’d stay nice and still, nice and submissive.
+++++It circled a couple more times, leaning in to nip my hair and back
with ice-pick teeth. Two minutes of prowling, it quit the belly
rumble, huffed at me with same brand of disdain a city banker reserves
for vagrants before stopping at my head and cocking a slender,
powerful leg.
+++++Hot, stinking piss splashed my face and shoulders, sprayed my cropped
skull, dribbled into my eyes, my mouth. Dominance exhibited, the
German bully-boy trotted back to its place on the three-storey town
house’s patio, dumped its arse on a low-sided bed.
+++++I grabbed a handful of waterlogged grass, wiped it across my stinking
face, jammed it into my trousers. Slipping the syringe back into my
jacket, I braced my knees and elbows against the ground,
leopard-crawled toward a bed of dead roses. I could have made a run
for it, could have got to my feet and dashed across the garden. I’m
sure the still-watching dog would have loved that.
+++++Boots sinking in fertilised soil, I stared at the second wall. Higher
than the first, broken glass concreted to its top edge glistened in
the light of a crescent moon. Slipping my jacket off my shoulders, I
draped its leather back over the wicked blades, dragged myself up and
over.
+++++I crossed the second garden in a low, ape-like run. Muscles loose,
breathing controlled, I darted along its shadowed boundary, stopped
short behind a corrugated iron shelter that stank of cigarette smoke.
Fumbling the bandana tied at my neck, I dragged it up over my face.
The acrid stink of dog piss made me want to gag.
+++++Boot steps light, I tabbed over to a heavy wooden door, slipped picks
from a cargo pocket, reached for its corroded handle with a flash of
inspiration. Grinning, I turned the metal knob, slipped inside, pulled
the door shut.
+++++Back pressed against a corridor wall, I scanned the rehab clinic’s
shadowed interior. A cocktail of bleach and vomit filled my lungs with
every breath, penetrating my damp mask. Running through the
blue-prints I’d committed to memory during a week’s recon, I rolled
tension from my neck, hit a right. Adrenaline spiked as a low moan
filtered behind the first door I passed, tightening my muscles to hot
wire. The groaning died in a beat or two.
+++++I followed my internal map up a flight of rickety stair, took another
right into a door-lined corridor, its ceiling dotted red with
emergency lighting. At the third door in, I reached for another
handle, stopped with hand midair when I noticed circular welt of a
Yale lock.
+++++I swallowed surprise in a fraction of a second, Squatted down with
picks in hand. Despite the darkness, my tension wrench found its mark
straight off, followed by a jagged pick. I stroked metallic pins with
my thief’s finger.
+++++Tumblers clicked into place, the wrench turned. I pushed the door and
rose to standing in one smooth movement, stashed the picks in my
trousers and stepped inside. Lavender and sandalwood pierced my
dog-stinking mask, the hum of an electric heater buzzed in my ears.
+++++“So you’ve come.”
+++++The voice, flat and calm, sent a shiver through my spine. He sat on
the bed, silhouetted by silver light leaking through his open window.
+++++“I knew you would. I knew she was too much of a hater to let it go.”
+++++The voice from a dozen movies rolled like honey through my brain as
the shadow raised his hands palm up, the gesture trying to placate me,
to let me know he’d acted outside his control.
+++++“I knew she’d be trouble, it made me want her more. What could I do?”
+++++I slipped a hand into my jacket. My other hand slid around to the
small of my back, gripped rubber. I shifted it back to the front, let
moonlight dance along the k-bar’s razor edge.
+++++“You could have kept your dick in your pants,” I said tossing the
hypodermic needle into his lap.
+++++“There’s enough in there to do the job, you’ll barely notice.”
+++++The patch of blackness picked up the plastic sliver, turned it in his
fingers like he’d never seen one before.
+++++“So you’re going to go through with it? Kill a penitent man?”
+++++“Only if you make another bad decision.”
+++++Dark, silent molasses passed between us for a moment. Movement in his
shoulders told me he was toying with the needle, the idea of dying,
probably weighing up his chances. A sharp jerk of his elbows killed
the silence with a sharp crack.
+++++“I don’t think you’ve got the gu…”
+++++Two steps and a single lunge cut him dead. I twisted the blade as I
pulled it from his sternum, felt not a damned thing as he tumbled
sideways onto his sheets.
+++++“Wrong choice,” I said, wrenching the blade from his chest, wiping it
off and stashing it at the small of my back.
+++++I left the same way I got in, walked through wet streets to my stolen
Cavalier. After changing my clothes, I pulled a pay-go mobile from the
glove box, sent a message to an equally untraceable phone. It read
‘Let it go’. Half hour later, I was back in my flat, sipping whiskey
while the car, phone and blade smouldered merrily in the roughest part
of town.

Drop

Kid in the dirty jumper hacked it through the crowded shop. Stock and customers bounced off the tips of his jabbing elbows as he bolted for the door. With the grace and speed of a horny wildebeest, I charged toward the entrance, looking to blocked the thief’s escape.
+++++“Give it up, kid,” I barked, planting my feet shoulder-width and my middle-aged spread firmly in his path, “you ain’t going anywhere.” Dark eyes flashed beneath his skewed, red baseball cap, gave me a look that told me I’d snuck in a play he’d missed in his game plan. Hollow cheeks flushing pink, he switched his face left and right. The little prick’s eyes fixed on Aisha’s swollen, baby-stretched belly. I got my carcass moving as his right hand slipped beneath the mess of stolen sportswear hidden by his filthy, over-sized hoody, felt my jaw flap open as he moved toward the young shop assistant. My balls shrivelled as steel flashed in fluorescent lighting.
+++++“Back off, mother fucker,” he hissed through yellow teeth. Aisha screamed high and shrill as his dirty fingers wrapped themselves in her thick black hair, yanked her head back like he was trying to pull it off. Metal glistened against her slender, brown neck.
+++++“Back off or the bitch gets her baby nice and early.” I tasted vomit as he dragged his blade across Aisha’s gut, pressed the tip gently against the front of her uniform. Tongue poking out the side of his mouth like some sadistic cartoon, he drew the blade over her body, circled her left breast then pressed it back against her throat.
+++++“Son,” I said, praying to fuck he was bluffing, not giving a shit about the adrenal twitch in my legs, “let her go. She’s not done anything to you. Let her go, son.”
+++++The savage little bastard threw his head back, cackled like some demented hyena. His thick white saliva spattered Aisha’s hair. “Son?” He said, meeting my gaze dead-on, increasing the pressure on Aisha’s neck. A thick, red jewel glistened against her skin, ran like some hellish imitation of the tears streaming from her wide, brown eyes.
+++++“Yeah, you can be my old man. He was a useless, fat fuck too.” I gave a sneer like his smart-mouth meant something to me, balled a fist at my side and jerked like I meant to hit him. At the same time, I found Aisha’s glassy stare, tried to tell her without words that everything would be okay. I didn’t quite believe it myself. “This ain’t no time to be a hero, pops,” he sneered, twisting his fingers deeper into the shop girl’s hair, dragging her toward the door.
+++++I took a look around the store, saw some bug-eyed granny gawking from the sidelines. Mitch and Tina, the other assistants, stood huddled together by a rack of running shoes. The heroic contingent of shoppers who’d, thirty seconds ago, scrapped and argued about cut-priced goods, had vanished faster than a fart in a hurricane. I hoped to Christ one of them had the chutzpah to call the cops.
“Yeah,” I said, dropping my stance to as close to neutral as I could manage, “we can pretend this didn’t happen. You done a good job with the hat, the cameras won’t make your face. Just let the girl go. You walk out of here, keep the shirts.”
+++++Face twisted into something evil, he jerked Aisha’s hair like he was controlling a disobedient mutt. More blood trickled over the knife, pooling in the pit of her collar bone. When she whimpered, low and soft like a wounded animal, he shifted the blade against her cheek. “Shut it, slut. And you,” he said, turning to me, keeping his stare level as he back-stepped toward the door, “you know I’m getting out of here. The only thing you don’t know is whether she’s coming with me or not.”
+++++I watched the punk shuffle to the door, watched Aisha’s trembling hands, watched the way her lips turned blue and how her uniformed darkened as her bladder emptied. My heart beat a low, steady rhythm that sucked life from my chest and the strength from my body. “Dale?” Aisha whispered through frozen lips, teeth chattering from the shock I could see chewing on her mind.
+++++I raised a hand, like I could comfort her fifteen feet and a world of insanity away. My fingers dropped to my thigh. A flash of movement caught my attention, ripped my gaze off the terrified girl and toward the thief. The old woman, hard as nails and dumb as a hammer, dragged her heavy purse over her shoulder, let rip with a double-hand swing that arched in slow motion toward the red hat.
+++++“Jesus, no!”
+++++Too late, the roar tore open my throat, echoed through the store like a thunder clap. Through tunnel vision, I watched her bag curve toward the psycho’s skull, watched him half-pirouette out of the way. My guts lurched as her bag slammed into his elbow, jerking his knife hand up and in. Aisha screamed one long, agonised note as the blade punctured her throat, three inches of steel biting deep into her flesh. The pregnant girl hit the floor like a dropped sack.
+++++Purse dangling from her hand, the old woman froze. Mitch and Tina huddled together like terrified kids, seeking comfort in one another’s arms. On the floor, blood pooling from her neck like water from a burst pipe, Aisha twitched and thrashed in seizure. Cold, hard, the kid in the hat turned to me with a grin of pure evil. “Fancy a run?”
+++++Laughing, he darted for the door.
+++++Numb, I slapped at my chest, felt the cold, hard plastic of my radio. I pressed the button, mumbled something to control. I don’t remember their reply.
+++++Moving on autopilot, I grabbed a shirt from a rack, shoved it under Aisha’s head, grabbed another and pressed it to her bloody wound. “Mitch,” I said, my tone calm, dead in my ears.
+++++“Come here a second. Hold this to her neck. Please don’t take the knife out.” Mitch staggered over. I showed him where to apply pressure, checked Aisha was as comfortable as I could make her.
+++++“Tina,” I said, walking toward the exit.
+++++“Would you be a love and call control? Make sure they’ve got an ambulance on the way?”
+++++I think she nodded, may even have said something. I don’t remember. I had other things on my mind.
+++++Biting January winds did nothing to clear my head. Outside, shoppers clung in groups, cursing out the padded figure barging a path through their ranks. A girl, maybe eight, pointed to my hands, pulled on her mother’s arm, screamed. The blonde-haired women, ashen faced, threw me a look, pulled her child protectively behind her. I didn’t give a fuck.
+++++My strides came, jerky at first as I pushed through images in my head. I balled my fists, felt Aisha’s still-warm blood slick on my fingers. Half-watching the murderer barrel through the crowd, half trapped in pictures of the knife penetrating my friend’s neck, I forced my pace into something harder, faster. A single, razor-edged tear traced the line of my cheek, breaking my shocked semi-paralysis, shattering my restraint.
+++++Wolf-mad, I hit a sprint, sent scarf-swaddled shoppers flying. Ignoring the burn of a twenty-a-day habit in my lungs, I tore after the red cap. Howling, I cleared the entrance to Gunwharf Quays retail park, shot onto Park Road. Breaks screeched, a horn wailed. I slammed my bloody fists onto a silver bonnet, slid my body over it, ran into the warren of public housing. A shadow scratched at my left eye. Lips pulled back, teeth aching from the tension in my jaw, I veered toward it, hit the alley-mouth at full speed.
+++++The red hat bobbed in my vision. I roared, threw a lunging punch, put my bodyweight behind it. Old, slow, I missed the younger man by inches, felt a double-barrelled retaliation smash my ribs, heard a hacking laugh that will haunt me ‘til the day I die.
+++++I swung again, missed, willed my feet to follow. Confusion bubbled in my chest as my knees gave. Pain burst in my chin as it struck pissy concrete, ammonia filled my nostrils. I tried to stand, coughed, tasted blood thick and metallic in my mouth. Anger melted to panic. I reached a trembling hand to my burning ribs, found slick wetness and sharp, agonising pain. I tried to move, tried to stand. Icy cold spread through my body, froze my legs in place.
+++++Darkness drew in and I remembered the girl on the floor, her life oozing away like my very own. Realisation crept over me. I wondered if I’d made a difference, if a dead girl and ending my days bleeding out in some urinal of an alley had been worth the minimum wage I’d pulled in for over twenty years.
+++++A hacking laugh and retreating footsteps were my only answer.