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Adam Francis Smith
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silverskin.jpg
Art by Jeff Fallow 2010

Silverskin: Quittin’ Time

 

Adam Francis Smith

 

 

 

The Come-on Inn was closed for the night. A ragged paper sign in the front window still announced “OPEN,” but I attributed it’s not having been flipped to a lazy manager. Apparently too lazy to change the sign, sweep the sidewalk, or set the burglar alarm.

 

As I watched the darkened pub from across the street, entrenched in mother-loving shadow, I noted the periodic gleam of a flashlight beam within. The bearer paid no heed to the fact that the light shone out into the street when inadvertently directed toward the windows.

 

Amateur, I thought.

 

I heard a rough clang and then a protracted squeal and surmised that the perpetrator had exited the pub through the heavy rear door. I took two steps and leaped, bounding into the air, across the street and onto the pub’s low roof.

 

I silently dashed across the roof to the rear of the building and looked down into the dimly-lit alleyway, hoping for a chance to pounce on the perp and ruin his evening. But as I lifted my head enough to give the hiding crook an angle, a burst of silent gunfire lit the alley and one of the leaden slugs smacked into my skull, just above the left temple.

 

Stunned not from pain, but disbelief, I staggered back, out of the line of fire. My hand instinctively rose to my head to assess the damage. There was none. Aside from the rattling inside my skull, I’d have never known I’d been hit.

 

The Silverskin had done its job once again. I owed so many lives to the alien technology that I had stopped counting. One day there’d be hell to pay, but like a kid with mommy’s credit card and an internet full of porn, I’d deal with the consequences when I had to.

 

I hit the deck and waited for my brain to stop quivering. That slug must have been a big one; it took me a full ten-count to get my eyes back into focus.

 

The Silverskin was a miracle, and even after all these years I could still stumble upon some new ability, some new trick that if I had only known about earlier, would have made my life a whole lot easier.

 

Like the one I used then. I slid my fingers out over the edge of the flat roof, and scanned the alley in infrared. The suit could interlay heat signatures within my own three-dimensional vision. I didn’t have to stand and look over the side of the building to know that the perp had taken off. There was no sign of my attacker, just a dimming yellow smear leading off to the south.

 

So why, if the suit had this ability, did I let myself get shot in the first place? The answer is deep; it’s about a web, woven of fear of dependence, fear of addiction, and a hugely inflated ego. Or so my ex-partner would have you believe.

 

My dead ex-partner.

 

I thought about picking up the chase, but that bastard knew something, knew that I’d be there, and frankly, that scared me. It didn’t feel as though a trap had been laid for me, but it felt as though the gunman had weighed the possibility of my presence and had taken precautions.

 

I was honest enough with myself to admit that I was a coward. I was not brave enough to run headlong into something I didn’t yet understand. Honesty is a good thing when used in moderation, but cowardice is an absolute necessity if you want to live long enough to tell your next lie.

 

I was about to leap down to the alley and enter the pub from the rear, but an itchy palm reminded me that I didn’t have to. I stood and raised my hand waist-high, palm down and parallel to the roof. I spread my fingers and moved my wrist in slowly expanding circles.

 

Aw, shit. One, two, three.

 

Crap. Four, five, six.

 

Six bodies lay cooling in the humid air of the bar below. Damn, I really hated this shit.

 

I did leap down then and entered carefully, knowing I’d find nobody alive, but still fighting a nervous tinge, still afraid that the killer might have been expecting me.

 

I confirmed with my “real” eyes that the six men were dead. Confirmed that they were shot numerous times in varying places.

 

Three were shot in the head. Two were shot in the chest. One was shot in the neck, face and hands.

 

Fingers don’t stop bullets too well, but if you try, at least you’ll only have a fraction of a second before you find out the truth: that you’re going to die.

 

I moved behind the bar and picked up the telephone handset. I punched nine-one-one and laid the handset down beside the cradle.

 

“Nine-one-one, what is the nature of your emergency?”

 

I think they call it a one-eighty-seven: homicide. Make that times six.

 

I wanted to pick up the phone and tell the operator, “Some sick fuck shot six men dead for no apparent reason.” I wanted to ask, “What reason could be good enough? How is it that some people cannot appreciate the value of a life, or the finality of death? What is six times priceless?”

 

I get like that sometimes. I get melodramatic and nerdy. But the questions I whisper, or ask aloud, or scream at the top of my lungs are valid. I’ll keep asking them. It’s why I do what I do.

 

I don’t guess I’ll get answers, and I’ll probably stop asking questions once I’m dead. There are no answers after that, right?

 

So I left the phone there and I left the bodies there and exited the rear of the building. I exited that salty, copper-thick air and entered an atmosphere of crisp, garbage-tinged funk that I hadn’t noticed before.

 

I’m no detective, so I can’t tell you that I stayed behind, looking for clues. I got the hell out of there before the cops showed up. I always do.

 

I let the cops do their job. They’re pretty good at it. I’d only make things worse.

 

Sometimes I’m early enough, or smart enough to catch the bastards in the act. Then, like some comic book superhero I deliver them all wrapped up nice and tidy to the nearest precinct. Other times, I’m only mildly sorry to admit, I kill the fuckers in a fit of rage or accidentally, when the suit screws up and I kick too hard, throw too far or squeeze just a little too much.

 

It’s a learning curve. I learned that night that I’m not really cut out for this. I care, don’t get me wrong, I do. But I’m a coward, and that bastard got me thinking that maybe I’ve been doing this too long. Maybe one day it will be a trap. Maybe one day this suit won’t be enough to save my ass. Maybe one day very soon there’ll be hell to pay, and I’ll be dead, just like my dead ex-partner, and I’ll stop asking questions.

 

 

Adam Francis Smith was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and is a product of the Chicago Public School system. Of CPS, Adam is fond of saying, "I learned more in the halls than in the classrooms." Adam is a watcher of people and uses all that he sees in his writing. He hopes that as you read his stories, you'll find people you recognize within; including yourself.

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