A Man, a Bottle, and a Gun


The blue pleather seats stuck to the back of Mike’s arms as he leaned over the grab the half-full bottle of Fireball on the passenger side floor. The air conditioning in the 2001 La Sabre he had bought off an acquaintance three years ago had gone out, and it was “fucking hot” by his own description.

+++++“Jesus Christ,” he said under his breath right before taking a deep swig of whiskey.

+++++A five-day stubble had developed on Mike’s chin, and it itched like hell. He saw no need to worry personal about hygiene anymore. No job, no family, no women to impress meant no fucks given. He used to care. He used to care a lot. But his failures to meet the expectations of the world, in both his career and his marriage had been such a struggle that he didn’t see the point anymore. Even his boys were about to be taken from him. Soon he would have nothing, that is, except the grudge.

+++++He kept on asking himself if this shit was even true. He had no idea if this guy existed, much less that he was the guy. “Tony Scarfino. He will be at 4027 Cove Lane in Scottsdale, Arizona on Monday, May 18th, 2017 at 10:30 am.” Those were the only words in a lone email that landed in his Mom’s inbox four days ago, almost two years to the day after emphysema had killed her.

+++++Mike must have replied a dozen times to the email but all he ever got back where the annoying “do not reply” email failure messages. That and a short meeting with HR coupled with a much longer meeting in the living room with his wife in front of the kids and he was off on the two day trip from St. Louis. The drive was much easier than he thought, so long as you don’t mind fast food and sleeping in your car.

+++++4027 Cove Lane is the Municipal Court of Riverview Neighbors, a goddamn spitting image of every white suburbanite Americans wet dream. There were rolling green hills with well-manicured streets, fresh cut grass with people outside walking their dogs and even the cliché “white picket fences” every other block. It was the place he always wanted to buy for Beth, but couldn’t.

+++++A bead of sweat dripped into his eyes with a salty sting. Mike rubbed it away with his fingers. His phone said 10:08.

+++++He didn’t know if this was going to be the guy he was looking for, Tony Scarfino. The last known picture of him was taken on the day of his sentencing in Missouri, an 11-year-old killer.

+++++His phone chimed with a text message.

+++++Beth: Where are you? The boys are going to be late for school.

+++++Mike took another swig of whiskey before he replied.

+++++Mike: You’re going to have to take the boys today.

+++++The phone tinged back immediately.

+++++Beth: What? Where are u?

+++++Mike: You know where I’m at.

+++++He sat in silence for a few moments, knowing the reply was coming.

+++++Beth: What? Mike, it’s not him.

+++++Beth: What are you doing?

+++++Mike hit “ignore conversation” on the phone and set it down. Then he reached into the center console and pulled out the sterling new Mark XIX Desert Eagle along with the 7 round clip he had purchased at a Walmart a few hours prior.

+++++The truth was Mike didn’t know what he was going to do if he found the man that had ruined his life. He loaded the clip into place and cocked one round in the chamber.

+++++But he did have a few ideas.


+++++10:30 came and went. A steady flow of people began to walk in and out of the courthouse, all going on about their day without a second thought. The fact that the address was a courthouse led some credence to the email’s claim. Scarfino had a rap sheet a mile long at the time of the murder; a fact that Mike had always hoped would catch up with him. He always hoped he would open the newspaper to see a headline that read in big black ink “COLLINS KILLER FOUND DEAD OF HEROIN OVERDOSE” or “MULTIPLE COMPOUND SKULL FRACTURES.”

+++++Sometimes that was the only thought that got Mike through the day; the idea that Scarfino was somewhere, suffering. That and booze. A life of parole officers and halfway houses and cheap two for one beer nights at the rural shithole bowling alley would be the absolute most he could hope for, even if he survived prison.

+++++One time his Mom told him that the best revenge for Joey’s death would be to live a “happy and productive life.” But she stopped talking like that when he and his mother found out he would walk free on his 18th birthday.

+++++Mike picked up his iPhone and began to scroll through his pictures and Joey’s face turned onto the screen. He stared into the eyes of his baby brother, and thoughts of that day raced through his head. The decisions made and lamented. His mother’s face after three days of no sleep during the search.

+++++A voice entered his mind. The words of the District Attorney describing the way Joey was tortured, beaten, and killed sent Mike to scramble for the bottle and promptly wash the thoughts away with few mouthfuls of alcohol. He paged one more time through his pictures, and the next face that came up was the one he was looking for.

+++++That of 11-year-old Anthony Raymond Scarfino. His features were unremarkable. He was your typical looking 90s kid of Italian heritage, jet black hair, olive oil skin tone, and awful, prepubescent mustache. He wore designer Nautica sweatshirts to school, and his parents were both semi-successful traffic law attorneys who played campy daytime TV spots. He had a crooked smile that cut all the way up to his right ear. It was that same crooked smile that he shown Mike and his mother after his sentencing, as he left the courtroom in his orange jumpsuit

+++++Had he been tried as an adult; he most likely wouldn’t have been able to get out until he was an old man. Instead, he was allowed to walk, after a few years of what the court called “exemplary behavior” at which point he changed his name and had his record expunged, per the laws governing juvenile homicide in the state of Missouri. It was as if Joey had never even existed in the eyes of the law.

+++++Mike knew he existed, though, and he intended to make sure no one forgot about him.

+++++The air in the car had become thin and stagnant, so Mike opened the door and stepped out into the morning, the sweat on his brow immediately drying. He tucked the pistol into the back of his jeans.

+++++The gun’s barrel was digging into his tailbone. Just as he adjusted it, people started filing out of the courthouse en mass. Mike froze. He looked back at his car, the 2001 Buick La Sabre that had brought him to where he was standing right now.

+++++He could still turn back. He could still go home. Maybe see his kids again. Maybe get a job working in a sales office for minimum wage and shitty hours. Maybe get a crappy apartment close to work after a few weeks of sleeping on a friend’s sofa. Maybe he can pull something meaningful out of this wretched shit of a life. Maybe.

+++++He took a deep breath as he walked into the building. A large scrum was congregating in the lobby in front of security. Mike could tell by the way they held tape recorders that some were media, looking for a quote the way you word see a reporter ask a question after a baseball game.

+++++When Mike got closer to the crowd, he saw the focal point of the discussion. It was a man with short cropped black hair and a thick, fire hydrant type build. He was speaking softly with mumbling, indiscernible words.

+++++“What’s it like to be out?” was one of the questions lofted his way.

+++++This was him. This was the man who ruined his life. He reached back for the gun when a fat sheriff with gray sideburns stepped right beside him. Mike’s hand quickly retreated to his pocket.

+++++“I’m just glad I’m able to go home.” He replied.

+++++Someone cut through the crowd behind him.

+++++“Excuse me. My client is done answering questions.”

+++++The lawyer’s chin was sharp and chiseled, and he wore a custom suite that probably cost as much as Mike’s car.

+++++“No” he whispered said to himself, paralyzed.

+++++The lawyer grabbed his client by the shoulder and led him toward the courthouse door.

+++++“Is there anything you would like to say to the victim’s family?” someone said.

+++++The lawyer cut in “Obviously, my client feels terrible for the family of the victim, and he hopes that this will lead them toward the true perpetrator.”

+++++Mike wandered with the crowd as they exited the courthouse. His mind was blank and his hands frozen, but the gun was tight on back.

+++++The lawyer turned and gave the crowd a sheepish smile before he ducked into the backseat of a black Chevy SUV. Mike knew that smile. It had haunted him in his dreams. Kept him awake on restless summer nights of his youth and sent him into red rages on the booze-soaked days of his adulthood. It was the subject of countless bloody fantasies of the satisfaction of revenge. For his brother, for his mom, for his wife, and for himself.

+++++The SUV sped away from the media scrum with an unnecessary screeching of the tires. That worked out for Mike because no one noticed the guy sprinting across the parking lot into a beat up 2001 Buick Le Sabre.


+++++The next twenty hours went by like twenty minutes. Everything felt like a fuzzy blur in front of him as he played the part of the detective on a stakeout, the likes of which he had seen on TV. The lawyer had been quite busy since leaving the courthouse, bouncing from his client’s home to a power lunch with friends, then eventually back to the office, then home to a beautiful neighborhood called Emerald Palisades. He knew he wasn’t quite Andy Sipowicz, but thought he did pretty damn good for a first-timer.

+++++The morning sun was coming up again as Mike stared at the lawyers perfectly manicured lawn, wondering what he was going to do when the lawyer walked of those wooden double doors to meet the day. What was he going to say? “Hey asshole, why did you steal my brother away from my mom a gas station when he was three? Why did you beat the shit out of him in an abandoned construction site for an hour? Why did you crush his skull with a rock as big as a mailbox?” They were all questions he wanted answers too, but somehow going through all this trouble to just talk seemed hallow. Words weren’t what he came for.

+++++Mike stared down at the gun in his lap, with its silvery finish gleaming beautifully in the dawn morning light. He thought a lot about his Mom and what she would think of what he was doing, and how horrified she would be. She knew the hate he had in his heart, the rage, the guilt. She knew where it was headed and she used to say she wanted nothing of it for her only remaining child.

+++++But she couldn’t see what Mike was seeing right now. It would have been the deepest insult imaginable to him. The life, the money, the success. It was almost too much to withstand. This was the life he stolen from Joey and worse; he attained all this by helping other maniacs get away with harming kids.

+++++A few quick searches via his beat up iPhone gave him a few answers. The trial at the courthouse was the verdict of a murder of a 5-year-old girl in 2014. His lawyer, “Ray Anthony,” a young hotshot defense attorney from Goldblatt and Farmer was the one who spoke to the media. On him, Mike could find virtually nothing except for a few press clippings about the trial. No LinkedIn or Facebook profile, nothing but a blurb about him on the law firm’s website.

+++++“There’s no fucking way the Arizona State Bar knows who this guy is,” Mike thought to himself. “Even if they did, one letter or email to some attention hungry journalist at the area newspaper would put an end to his career. Businesses can be extremely sensitive when it comes to bad PR, especially this shit.”

+++++He exhaled and sank back into his seat. He finally felt tired. The emotion on the end of his thoughts had frayed. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate and the steamy heat of the Buick Le Sabre was beginning to smother him. He plugged his dying iPhone into the cigarette lighter and noticed he had 32 missed voicemail messages and 52 new texts.

+++++The first five messages were nothing but the indiscernible clicks of the other side hanging up.

+++++“Damnit Mike” his soon to be ex-wife said in labored voice right before the phone clicked again.

+++++The seventh voicemail was a man. “Mr. Collins, this is Sergeant Jim McKenna of the St. Louis Police Department. Your wife is extremely concerned for you, sir. Please get back in contact….”

Mike hit the next voicemail. Nothing played initially, only background noise.

+++++“Daddy….” the voice came through the phone as if it had come out in a dream. “Daddy comes home. I want to play wrestling, Daddy.”

+++++The when the voicemail ended, tears welled up in his eyes.

+++++The La Sabre’s engine rumbled to life. At the same time, the marble doors of the suburban home split open and out came a kid wearing a brand new Star Wars backpack, nearly as big as him. After him came the lawyer, still clad in a frumpy gray t-shirt and sweatpants that he had no doubt wore to bed.

+++++Mike watched them both walk to the corner. He looked through the pictures on his phone again, flicking through a few until he got to one of his youngest boy, Bradley.

+++++He put the phone down and fastened the seat belt. Mike cut the wheel hard left to turn the car around. As he did, another kid came walking up the street. The lawyer’s kid ran precociously across the front of Mike’s car.

+++++His dad hollered, “Damnit, Joey, what did I tell you about not looking both ways when you cross the street?”

+++++Something hot shot up Mike’s neck and into his brain, something terrible. It coursed through his veins like a plague, tensed his muscles, and flashed twenty years of torment before his eyes.

+++++The Le Sabre stopped mid U-turn. Mike took his seatbelt off, opened the door, and walked up to the kids.

+++++“Excuse me, son, what’s your name?”

+++++“J…Joey,” the boy said, taken aback.

+++++“Is there something we can help you with, sir?” The lawyer said with the sheepish smile on his face.

+++++“No, Tony.” The smile vanished. “There’s nothing… you can do… to help me.”

+++++The morning air filled with screams, but none of them louder or more terrible than the Desert Eagle’s.

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James Danchus

James Danchus has sold two stories to short-form markets. "A Blessing from the Damned" which was in the February 2015 edition of New Realm Magazine, and "Black Pilgrimage" which appeared in Lyonesse in November 2017. He works in sales in St. Louis Missouri where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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