The Screw-upDecember 4, 2018
Miles Auburn touched the burning end of the match to his cigarette, pulled it to his lips, and inhaled. The eyes that looked directly, rather perfectly, into his eyes, were scared. The flesh around the two globes was discolored, drawn in, and curled up, like a rotting piece of lettuce. There was a film over each eyeball, and throughout them, like crimson streaks of lightning, were the signs of a bloodshot gaze.
Do you know, Miles jeered, how long it takes the average person to down a smoke? Six puffs. That’s the time you’ve got left.
Miles pulled the cigarette away, much like a surgeon would remove a tool from an open wound, and with his other hand, he held up a grayish, shining pistol. His tongue slithered from his mouth and ran along the side of the barrel, retracted, and allowed his lips to land for a kiss. His lips took their time.
First, he said. The cigarette dies, and then you’ll follow. And the thing is, he said, taking another deep drag. The thing is this. Just like this cigarette, you’ll be replaced easily.
Miles Auburn focused his gaze on his victim. Miles demanded an explanation, that was all. An admission of the mountains of lies that would have made the tower of Babel look like a footstool. He wanted admissions of fuckups and indiscretions, of sacks of coke that went missing, of whores who spread their legs one moment and went missing the next, of bundles of cash that were always, without fail, just a bit short when payment was due. Miles did not ask for much. He just wanted reasons for the fuckups.
The lips below the victim’s eyes trembled, and drops of moisture began to well up and fill those sickly, bloodshot ovals.
A moment passed. Miles grinned. He never forgot his first assignment, all those years ago. The victim was a centerpiece out of the well to do suburbia collection, a man of 40, too ugly for his suit and his wife. Miles remembered what he saw when he pulled the brown sack off of that toad’s head. The face underneath was a barely recognizable blob coated with snot and tears. Before he pushed that sobbing fountain of middle-class mediocrity off the West Street Bridge, he looked into his face and had a distinct thought: If I could bottle fear, all I would have to do is squeeze it out of your eyeballs. It’s a shame I have to kill you.
Miles took a puff that may as well have been four and leveled the pistol at its target.
I think we’re done here, he said, with more than a sigh of relief, and he slowly, just as he was taught long ago, squeezed the trigger as if he were trying to get juice from a lemon.
Officer Cooper stepped over a thickening pool of blood and stepped to the right and around two rotund EMT’s. They sat, arms on their knees, eating jelly donuts. Their eyes screamed boredom. Just another day for them. Cooper approached his partner and smacked him in the back of the head.
Put that damned smoke out, Sanders. If word gets out that you’re smoking at an active crime scene, it’ll be both our asses.
Sanders snuffed out the cigarette and stood up.
Well, Coop. You’re the wizard. You tell me what happened.
Oh hell, Cooper moaned. If the world is ever powered by your IQ, do me a favor, and put one right here.
Cooper planted a finger above his nose.
That man on the floor is Miles Auburn, Cooper continued. A low-level screw-up who has been on our radar for ages. Years ago he pushed one of our CI’s off a bridge, though the dumb bastard never checked to see whether it was the side of the West Street Bridge that would actually kill you. Anyway. Looks like he finally got sick of himself. My guess? Auburn got drunk and fired one at that mirror, which I assume he mistook for his own face. The bullet ricocheted into his leg, just missing the femoral artery. The dummy couldn’t even off himself.
You sure, boss?
I know. Not the first time this idiot has climbed aboard the suicide train. Two years ago, he tried after he gambled away some cash from his former boss, Giovanni DeNunzio.
Big G? The guy who stroked out and dropped dead in the peep show on Carson Alley?
Yep. That’s him. Stroked out while stroking off. Anyway, Miles figured himself to be a dead man after he got a little frisky with DeNunzio’s money, so he tried to hang himself in his motel room.
And that didn’t work out, eh?
You’re a genius, Sanders. No, it didn’t. You should have seen the noose he tied. He’d have been better off using a four-year-old’s art project. Good grief. I felt so bad for him I almost offered to kill him myself. Probably would have done so if his hospital detail hadn’t fallen asleep on duty and let him go.
Sanders looked at the Auburn. Auburn’s face was more shades of pale than color. His chest rose and dipped, but barely. An impressive beer gut fell to one side. His eyes, now closed, seemed like slits above his fat, doughy cheeks. He did not look like a man who could hurt anyone.
So he’ll live? Sanders asked.
Unless he gets some help, seems that way. And God. Get that stupid look out of your eyes, Sanders. Seriously. You’re creeping me outby