The Gun By His Bed

Richard awoke in darkness. He panicked as one does in the middle of the night. Who was he? Where was he?
+++++He pieced together the facts of his existence. First off, he was in bed. That he was sure of. Janet and his son were at her parents’ house for the weekend.
+++++He breathed again. All this was good.
+++++A sound – downstairs or outside.
+++++This was unusual. They lived on a cul-de-sac quieter than a cemetery. But no cause for fear. Probably just a raccoon digging through the trash or a car door slamming.
+++++Still…
+++++More sounds, quieter sounds. Could be any number of things. Maybe mice scratching the walls. Or his overactive imagination.
+++++Still…
+++++Maybe he left the door unlocked. He wanted to remember the satisfying moment when the deadbolt thunked into place and sealed his world off from the one outside. But that moment eluded him.
+++++He wouldn’t have thought twice about it if they had just installed the home alarm system he wanted. But Janet had to interrogate every expense.
+++++Richard removed the warm comforter. Picked up his glasses off the nightstand and opened a drawer. The gun felt cold and strange in his hands. He put on a pair of slippers. Crept across the hardwood floor and down the carpeted hallway. Stopped at the top of the stairs. Listened.
+++++Yes! There it was. The noises of another human. A nocturnal creature moving objects around in the dark. He exhaled for a long time. Filled his lungs with air.
+++++He moved down the stairs slower than anything he had done before, breath trapped in his lungs. He made no sound at all. Just needed to make it to the light switch at the bottom.
+++++Slivers of moonlight illuminated the family room. A shadow bounced back and forth. Maybe the thief was looking for jewelry or credit cards.
+++++Richard couldn’t help but think how proud Janet would be of him. Of course, she would be furious when she found out he bought a gun without her knowledge. But if he stopped a burglar, how could she argue with –
+++++Light filled the room. Richard’s eyes adjusted and he realized the burglar had turned on a lamp.
+++++He didn’t look at all like he was supposed to. This burglar would be as comfortable hopping on the train to Midtown as robbing a house.
+++++“Thought I heard you coming down the stairs,” the intruder said. “Nice pajamas.”
+++++Richard suddenly remembered to lift the gun. “Hold it right there!”
+++++“Now why’d you have to bring that thing?”
+++++“Shut up!”
+++++“Or what?”
+++++Richard’s stupid glasses had slid down his nose. He pushed them back up. “Or – or I’ll shoot!”
+++++The burglar leaned against the back of the sofa. “You want to get blood all over this nice couch and these lovely hardwood floors?” He picked up a framed photo of the family in front of the Grand Canyon. “I don’t think she’d be too happy about that.”
+++++“Well then, I’ll call the police.”
+++++“With what? Do you even know where your phone is?”
+++++“It’s…”
+++++“No, you’re not going to do that either. Here’s what’s going to happen. What’s your name?”
+++++“What?”
+++++“What’s your name?”
+++++“I’m not telling you that!”
+++++“Just your first name. Why does it matter?”
+++++He sighed. “It’s Richard.”
+++++“Ok, Richard. I’m going to approach you, take the gun, and unload it. Then I’m going to give it back to you. All right?”
+++++Richard tried to control his shaking his hands. “No, no! Not all right. Listen –”
+++++The burglar slid over and extracted the gun from Richard’s grip. Racked the slide and a bullet popped out. The magazine clattered to the floor. He handed the weapon back to Richard as he said he would.
+++++“There we go. Much better.” He put a hand on Richard’s shoulder and gestured to a rolling chair in front of a desk. “Now, you take a seat right over here. Would you like some ice water? Maybe a cup of tea to calm your nerves?”
+++++Richard noticed his underarms were damp. His blood pressure kept ticking up. Still, he couldn’t admit anymore weakness than he already had. “No, no.”
+++++“You’re ok then?”
+++++“Yes.”
+++++The burglar crouched and looked him in the eye. “Good. Now I’m trying to avoid some very dangerous people. I need a car. I see that your keys are on this desk, so I’m going to take yours. You have two options. You can call the police right after I leave, and maybe they’ll track me down. If they do, I’ll make sure to trash your car. But if you wait to call the police until noon tomorrow, I’ll leave it at a rest stop, good as new with a full tank of gas. The police will probably find it soon thereafter. So, what’s your choice?”
+++++Richard didn’t want to make this decision. He stared at a moisture stain in the ceiling. Wondered where that came from and how he could solve it.
+++++“Either way, I’m taking it.” He grabbed the keys off the table and smiled. “I hope you make the smart decision.”
+++++The burglar left. Richard took off his glasses, put his head in his hands. He went to the kitchen, picked up the cordless phone.
+++++He listened to the dial tone for a while. Eventually he pressed the off button and made himself a cup of tea. Added cream and sugar and watched cable news for a half hour before going back to bed.
+++++He could still get five hours of sleep before he had to go to work. But how was he going to get there without his car?

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Chris Rhatigan

Chris Rhatigan is the author of Watch You Drown, a collection of noir stories from Pulp Metal Fiction available at Amazon and Amazon UK. He is also the editor of All Due Respect and the co-editor of the crime anthology Pulp Ink. He talks short crime fiction at Death by Killing.

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14 thoughts on “The Gun By His Bed”

  1. Smooth as cream lazy looping down into a tall glass of ice tea. Reason trumped bravado. No one died. The good gunfight is the one you walk away from alive. The better gunfight is the one that doesn’t happen. Wish the world could learn that lesson. Cool.

  2. That’s my boy.

    So, if you enjoyed that, shouldn’t you be buying ‘Watch You Drown’? I can help with the answer – it starts with a ‘y’.

  3. A treat on a Monday morning. I could feel Richard’s pain and his inability to assert himself. Love your uncomplicated style, flows beautifully. :-)

  4. Great writing. Feel sorry for Richard though. He’s a wuss and he’s just had it spelled out to him in six foot high neon letters.

    Beautiful writing throughout.

  5. Nothing got hurt except Richard’s pride. It could have been a lot worse. I’m glad it wasn’t. The story, on the other hand, could not have been better!

  6. Thanks for reading folks and for all your interesting responses. Luca and CJ are spot on — he is a wuss. Although maybe things (at least in this fiction…) turn out better because of that. Better to be a coward who has a gun and doesn’t know how to use it than a hothead who has a gun and doesn’t know how to use it!

  7. I remember this one. Glad to see it’s been released. So what if the guy is a wuss. It’s the characters we bring to life- they just have to live in the worlds we put them in; of course, every time I read this I want to smash him in the face.

  8. Like AJ, I like the fact that nobody died and that the gun wasn’t fired at all. This could have very easily become Richard shoots his wife or his son and it could have become a moralistic tale of why, when you grab a gun, you should be sure that that’s the weapon you really want to wield. And that would have been fine.

    But it’s so much better that it’s an actual burglar and that Richard is unsure that he wants to use the gun and that the burglar is far more confident on alien territory (Richard’s house) than Richard is with the home-field advantage.

    Is Richard a wimp? I’d agree with you, Chris, that he is. But can any of us say that confronted with the same situation that we would have actually squeezed that trigger? I’m not sure that I would have.

  9. What a coincidence? I never expected to catch one of my current editors while doing some evening reading. Can’t wait to see your version of “Me Love You Long Time.” I’m jazzed to possibly be making my debut in crime venue family. Night!

    Thomas

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