Yellow Mama Archives

Justin A. Swartz
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laceyscloset.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage 2014

LACEY'S CLOSET

by Justin Swartz

 

          All of my life, I've loved only one girl: Lacey Heritage. We went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school, all twelve grades, and she never had a clue how I felt about her. I'd tried to tell her, God knows how I'd tried, but my mouth would go dry, my throat would clench, and my mind would go numb, searching for the right words to say. Lacey's beauty had that effect on people. Even grown men would double-take when she walked past them, and some of them even made passes at her. Lacey enjoyed every minute of it, eating up the attention like a movie star. 

          It made me mad to see her behaving like that. She knew better. Had we lived next door to each other, rode the bus together, and walked to the diner together, just to throw that all away?

          I still can't explain what came over me today and why I'm hiding in Lacey's bedroom closet right now. She's been dating this older guy, Rich Burton, but I don't know what she sees in him. He's one of those dumb jocks with a small cock and an even smaller brain. He's the backup fullback for the University of Southern California's football team. I saw him play on TV once. He's a terrible fullback. He can't break through the defense's front line to gain extra yardage and pick up that first down. In my eyes, he's nothing but a failure, on and off the field. 

          Maybe that's why I did what I did to Rich. I know the police are going to find him eventually, but with the way I made it look, they'll think he slit his own throat. What's a crappy fullback with a jailbait girlfriend got to live for? Nothing, nothing at all. Besides, Lacey isn't exactly jailbait. She's perfect, just the way she is, with that fluffy honey-blonde hair, oceanic blue eyes, taut red lips, and perfectly rounded--

          Stop that, I tell myself. You shouldn't be thinking those thoughts about the girl next door, but after all those times I've watched her change clothes through my bedroom window, how am I not supposed to think those things? How am I not supposed to want Lacey Heritage, right here, right now, the way I've always wanted her?

          Sorry, I got a little carried away there. I forgot to tell you how I ended up in Lacey's bedroom closet. I was cutting her grass after coming back from killing Rich and stuffing him in the trunk of his Firebird, and when I completed that task, I came in the house and couldn't find anyone to pay me my usual ten bucks for mowing the lawn. Hey, I have to make a living somehow, right?

          I walked all through the bottom floor of the house without finding Lacey, her mom, or her dad. I walked upstairs and caught a glimpse of a naked Lacey stepping into the shower and closing the bathroom door. That image would last me until next week, or next month even, but then a thought burst into my cerebellum: what if I told Lacey how I felt about her, really told her, and took her as she was?

          I know that's not what boys my age are supposed to think. I just turned nineteen, but everyone still calls me a boy or a child. I hate that. My dad told me that until you have sex with a girl, you're not really a man.

          Damn it all, Dad, I want to be a man!

          I climbed the steps to Lacey's room and examined it carefully. She had laid a pair of skimpy see-through panties on the bed to put on after her shower was over.  Just as I went to feel the fabric of her underwear, the water stopped running in Lacey's shower. Fearing for my life, I ducked into her closet and held the doors shut. The doors had slats in them, so I could still see inside her room and watch Lacey like a naughty voyeur.

          That's how I ended up in Lacey's closet, but here's the real kicker. While Lacey dried off in the bathroom, my head bumped a shoebox on a shelf in her closet.  I caught the box before it hit the floor, but the lid slid off, and out tumbled a neat little .22 and an assortment of dollar bills. Some of them were ones, others fives, with a few tens and twenties mixed in. I even saw a hundred dollar bill in there, and those you don't come by easy.

          My first question was, "Where did Lacey get all of this money?" 

          My second question was, "Why does Lacey own a gun?"

          My final question was, "What does she plan to do with it?"

          I picked up the .22 and studied its nickel plating and pearl grip. My dad had owned guns throughout the years, but whenever he saw small ones like this, he called them "ladies' guns" and said they couldn't kill anybody. Dad had taught me how to fire a gun, even though my aim was awful. I ejected the clip and found it to be full, with a set of five rounds inside. I inserted it into the gun and pulled the breech back, just like Dad had shown me, an action which puts the first bullet in the chamber.

          I did a rough count of the money in the shoe box. There was at least two hundred dollars in there. Where did Lacey get this money?

          At that moment, Lacey exited the bathroom and walked into my field of vision. The slats didn't obscure much of her naked body as she shed her towel and slipped into her panties. My mouth went dry, like it always did, and the closet suddenly felt like a sauna. I couldn't speak, couldn't think. Why did Lacey always do this to me? Why?

          Lacey turned to the closet and took a step forward. I realized I was doomed.  She'd find me, she'd tell her parents, her parents would tell my parents, and then I'd never be allowed to see her again, and I'd never become a man!

          Lacey took another step. Everything was running in slow-motion, like a movie being shot at one frame per second. I had to get out of here, I had to get out of here!

          Lacey took a third step. She put her hand on the knobs of the closet doors.  Just as they slid back, a devilish thought entered my head, like Satan himself was whispering in my ear.

          You've got a gun. Use it.

          Lacey opened the closet doors, exposing her half-naked body to me and exposing my sweaty, frightened self to her. Her blues fell on my browns, as if she couldn't comprehend how I got into the closet in the first place. 

          Then she screamed. 

          And that's when I pulled the trigger.

          It was nothing more than a loud clap, like someone trying to kill a gnat with their hands. Blood spread across Lacey's abdomen and traveled south, turning her panties from white to red. She stumbled back against her dresser, clutching her stomach, as blood dripped from the corner of her mouth and onto the floor. Her eyes, the eyes I'd loved so much, pleaded with me for a moment, then twisted to hate, and then turned dark and glassy. And just like that, Lacey Heritage was gone.

          I fell to my knees and dropped the .22 to the floor. I believed Dad when he said these ladies' guns couldn't kill anybody. I guess Dad was wrong. As the hot, bitter tears came and wails erupted from my lips, I realized that all I'd wanted to do was scare her, and that her scream had scared me; it made me pull the trigger.

          But no, that's not a good enough excuse. You're going to blame the victim for her own death? No, this was all you, my brain told me. You wanted her so badly? Well, here she is. She's dead as a doornail, but that's what you get for killing her boyfriend and thinking you had any chance with her. And what was the big idea, hiding in her closet and hoping you'd get to see her naked? What kind of sicko are you, pal?

          As the self-destructive tape in my brain played on a loop, I felt Lacey's dad grab me and slam me against the wall. He said things that aren't fit to repeat and that I couldn't really hear over that awful tape in my head, the one that just kept beating me up, over and over and over.

          When the homicide detectives arrived, they found Lacey's diary in her dresser drawer. It detailed how she was stealing Rich's money from his wallet every time they slept together, and how she planned to kill him with the .22 and take all of his money. It also detailed her opinion of me, which wasn't very high to begin with. She thought I had an "unhealthy obsession" with her, how I was the "dork next door," and how she liked teasing me through her bedroom window, because "that's all the closer he's ever going to get." 

          After I heard all of that, I realized that killing Lacey wasn't such a bad thing.  She'd hated me and the way we'd lived next door to each other, the way we'd rode the bus together, and the way we'd walked to the diner together. It had meant a lifetime to me, and it didn't mean shit to her.

          Maybe I was right to kill her.

          And maybe, I told myself, the world was better off.

END






cigarettesandchamp.jpg

CIGARETTES AND CHAMPAGNE

by Justin Swartz

 

          Let me tell you, it doesn't get much lower than cigarettes and champagne.  When you're sitting in a rusted Buick outside your girlfriend's apartment building on a Friday night, smoking cigarettes like they were candy and drinking champagne like it was water, you know you've hit rock solid bottom. Nobody's your friend on a night like that, and nobody will lend you a dollar for a cheap sandwich at McDonald's to stave the hunger that's clawing at the walls of your stomach. 

          That's what last Friday night was like for me. I was wearing my dad's gray pea coat like it was my skin and I was still freezing cold. I caught a brief weather report on the Buick's radio that said the temperature in Pittsburgh that night was four degrees. The wind chill made it minus twenty. I only had heat coming out of one vent in the Buick, and it was the one all the way against the passenger-side door. Not even your car respects you when you've stooped to cigarettes and champagne. 

          I pulled the last Lucky Strike from the pack and put it between my trembling lips. I could barely feel them touch each other. I reached for my lighter and flicked it on. The flame died instantly. Too cold, I guess. I cupped my gloved hands around the damn thing and managed to light the lung killer. I took a long, satisfying drag on it before I realized I didn't have any money to get another pack.  Too bad they don't sell Lucky Strikes at the drive-thru.

          The champagne bottle was sitting between my legs on the floor of the Buick.  I kept telling myself I was drinking it to keep warm, but I remembered my Army survival training and how they told us that was all a myth. Either way, I needed something with a kick to wash down the taste of this awful job. 

          The gun I'd bought was a .357 Ruger GP100. I purchased it from a friend who lived in the Hill District. It wasn't the nicest neighborhood and he wasn't the nicest guy on the block. He had five or six guns to choose from and I picked the one that fit inside my dad's coat. It only came with four bullets, and I couldn't afford to buy any extras, so I'd been forced to make do. In case you're wondering, that's what most of my money went to this week. The rest was spent on cigarettes and champagne. 

          I cradled the champagne bottle in my arm like it was my first-born. It was half-empty and it looked lonely. I provided it with some company as I took a slug of the bottle's contents and cradled it again. My eyes went to the Buick's radio, which was playing that Chipmunks Christmas song. You know the one, about not standing the wait and Alvin wanting a hula hoop. I remembered Christmas with my dad and that record playing on the turntable while we opened gifts Christmas morning. If Dad could see me now, I'm sure he'd be disappointed that this was how I spent Christmas Eve.

          I took a glance at the Buick's radio again. George Michael's "Last Christmas" was playing. I swear, not even the radio respects you when you've stooped to cigarettes and champagne. I twisted the knob on the radio until it clicked and George shut up. I'd been taking intermittent drags on the cigarette and now it was half-way gone. I took another long pull on it and blew the exhaust out my nose.  My nostrils burned a bit and that restored feeling to my frozen schnoz.  My face felt like I'd held it inside one of those freezers they have in the frozen food section of the grocery store. I couldn't take much more of this shit.

          Finally, a call came in on my Tracfone. I pried it open with shaking hands and answered the call.

          "He--hello?" I answered, my lips unable to move.

          "Do it now," the voice said, "and hurry."

          They hung up. I hung up. I reached into my coat and removed the Ruger. I checked the cylinder one last time and stared at the four bullets in their little slots.  I snapped the cylinder closed and shoved the Ruger back inside my coat. I took a final drag on the Lucky and jammed it into the overflowing ashtray. I took a slug of the champagne and placed it on the passenger seat. Then I opened the Buick's door and stepped outside.

          The winter air hit me like a sucker punch to the face. The wind took my breath away and knocked the stuffing out of me. I pushed myself toward the apartment building's door, gulping in the frigid air and trying to stay upright, until I was inside the foyer.

          Christmas lights framed the stairs that led up to the top floor. Red and gold garland trimmed the foyer doors. I could hear Beethoven coming from one of the upstairs apartments. It made me wish my neighbors were that educated. I took the steps one at a time, gathering my strength, and then two at a time, as I cleared the second and third floors. When I reached the fourth floor, I could see a window at the far end of the hall that had a rainbow of Christmas lights hung around it. The lights were blinking on and off in a rotating pattern. I had to fight tears as I looked at them and how much they reminded me of Christmases long, long ago.

          I forced myself down the hall and reached into my coat. I removed the Ruger and cocked the hammer. I held the gun in both hands and stood alongside the door to apartment 4-F, the one at the end of the hall and to the right. I listened for a moment. Two moments. Sounds of sex and pleasure filtered through the door and into my ears. I whirled around to the door and slammed my boot against the cheap lock, shattering it with one kick. The door flew open and a shout erupted from inside the apartment.

          I hurried inside, Ruger in front of me, and scanned the living room and kitchen. Nobody home. I rushed to the bedroom and found my girlfriend, Julie, naked on the bed with a naked man bending over her. He wasn't a greasy slob, but he wasn't Clark Gable either. 

          Julie looked up at me as I entered the bedroom, the same bedroom where I'd bent over Julie. I aimed the Ruger at her. 

          "Rufus?" she said in disbelief. "What are you doing with the elephant gun?"

          "Hey, buddy!" the naked man said to me. "Can't you see I'm busy here?"

          "I'll get to you in a minute, sir," I told him. "First things first."

          I shot Julie.  It was one bullet above her right breast. Blood spilled across her chest and onto the sheets. The naked man reeled back from the sight of the blood and fell onto the floor ass-first. I cocked the hammer on the Ruger as I watched all the life leave Julie's eyes.

          "Goddamn it, Rufus," the man said, standing up and rubbing his ass. "You sure know how to make an entrance."

          "How long?" I asked. "How long has she been cheating on me?"

          "Six months," the man said. "She's been seeing me and you, Rufus. That's how these girls work."

          The man went over to his jeans and searched through his pockets. I kept my eyes trained on him as he pretended to hunt for money.

          "But hey, you did the deed, so you deserve to be paid," he said. "After all, that's what we agreed to, right?"

          "Uh-huh."

          When I saw the Derringer I spun right and pulled the bedroom door closed behind me. The bullet pierced the wood of the door and cut into my right side like a dagger through flesh. I put my hand to the wound and it came back bloody. I cussed every bad word I knew and pushed my liquid legs toward the kitchen.

          I slid into the kitchen and hid behind the refrigerator. A kitchen towel hung from the handle on the fridge's door. I snatched it up and applied it to my wound, hard, ignoring how much it burned. I could hear my client run into the living room, his bare feet slapping against the hardwood floor. I peeked around the corner of the fridge and looked through the kitchen doorway into the living room. He was still naked and was busy scanning the Derringer from side to side.

          I lifted the Ruger to eye level and spent a bullet on his left kneecap, blowing it open and sending him sprawling to the floor in agony. As his cries of pain echoed out into the hall, I put both feet on the floor and pushed myself up to a standing position, stepping into the living room and looking down at him in pity.

          "What did you expect, Rufus?" he said between grunts of pain. "If I left you alive, you could implicate me in court!"

          "And if I leave you alive," I pointed out, "you could do the same to me."

          The realization hit my client, and his face went an ash-white.  He looked up at me, his eyes pleading for a reprieve.

          "Come on, Rufus," he said. "I messed up, all right? I'll make it up to you!"

          "On Christmas Eve, Donald? I don't think so."

          I shot him, too. A bullet went through his skull and splattered his gray matter on the floor. I sighed and forged a path to the bedroom, where I went through Donald's pockets. I found his wallet and flipped it open.

          He had a dollar on him. That was all.

          I put the dollar in my coat pocket and made my way out into the hall. I stumbled down the three flights of stairs and shoved the lobby doors open. When the cold hit me this time I didn't even feel it. I didn't feel anything. I threw open the door to the Buick, got in, started the car, and drove to the nearest McDonald's.

          I bought a McChicken with Donald's dollar. Lucky for me I had the six cents tax in my glove compartment; otherwise it would have been a no-go. As I sat in my car, wondering what to do about my bullet wound and whether the bullet was still inside me, I ate the McChicken and felt it tickle my ribs on the way down. I had never loved a fast food sandwich more. I devoured it, licked my fingers, and washed it down with the last of the champagne. I felt a little sick to my stomach, but I tried not to pay attention to it. 

          It wasn't until the drive home that I realized what I'd done. Two people were dead over a lousy dollar, a dollar I had spent at McDonald's. I was still freezing, my side hurt like hell, and I only had one bullet left in my gun. Some hitman I'd turned out to be.

          I guess it all goes back to the cigarettes and the champagne. Nobody respects you when you're that low on your luck. Your girlfriend doesn't respect you—she's been cheating on you with another guy. That guy doesn't respect you, even when you agree to kill the girl for him and split the difference. Your car doesn't respect you, your radio doesn't respect you, and even your empty wallet doesn't respect you. The only things that respect you are cigarettes and champagne.

          I turned on the Buick's radio and heard someone request the Chipmunks song. I felt hot tears burn my eyes as the cracking of that old record on the turntable came back to me.

          Time for toys and time for cheer, they sang.

          Damn straight, Alvin. Damn straight.

END 



womanonbed.jpg

THE WOMAN ON THE BED

 

By Justin Swartz

 

 

          I knew she shouldn't be tied up like that. It wasn't the proper thing to do with a young woman. She was barely in her twenties, and I a hard-nosed sixty. I might as well have been a shriveled eighty as far as she was concerned.

          It was half past midnight on a hot Thursday evening. The city of York, Pennsylvania had advised everyone to conserve energy by turning off their air conditioning. I had none to speak of, and the constant sheen of sweat that built up on my skin did nothing to cool me off. That's actually what sweat's for, you know. It's your body's pathetic attempt to lower your temperature. A fat lot of good that did me, sitting on a plastic folding chair, in the middle of a grimy studio apartment on College Avenue.

          I heard a siren go down the street, and it hit me like a lightning bolt to the heart. It also made the lady on the bare mattress jerk awake, like she'd been electrocuted by that bolt. She couldn't really sit up with her wrists and ankles bound to the bed frame via handcuffs, but she tried her damnedest to.


          "You're still here?" she said with a heavy rasp. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Where's the other one?"

          "Joshua's getting Chinese takeout at the moment," I told her. Joshua was my brother, ten years younger than I was, and every bit as hard-nosed as I. Perhaps even more so, considering it was his idea to kidnap this woman and spread-eagle her across the bed in cuffs.

          "You want to tell me why I'm here?"

          I remained silent. 

          "Oh," she muttered, "there's that look again."

          I raised my left eyebrow in her direction. I wasn't aware I had a "look."

          "Ever since you brought me here, I've been studying you." 

          "Didn't know you cared," I quipped.

          "I don't." She frowned. "That look I'm talking about? That's the look that says 'I don't know shit.'" She moistened her chapped lips. "So, even if you wanted to tell me why I'm here, you can't, because you never got the memo."

I went silent again. The woman chuckled slightly.

          "Oh God," she said, "there it is again."

          "You know, you talk pretty tough for a broad without any clothes on," I growled. 

          It had been Joshua's idea to strip her naked before cuffing her to the bed, and while I wasn't exactly jumping for joy over the idea, it hadn't been all bad. Her skin was a creamy white, and she possessed long legs and fantastic breasts. I hadn't seen a real naked woman in quite a long time, and I hadn't felt the sensation passing through my groin and to my abdomen for longer than that.

          "Stop staring!" she shouted.

          "Can't help it," I said with a smirk. "Nudity is a crowd pleaser."

          "You're nothing but a greasy pig with a fat gut and a small dick!"

          "Wow. Did you read that in a comic book, or did you come up with that yourself?"

          She huffed and turned her face away. I let out a sigh and looked up at the old steel ceiling fan, hanging precariously from a large hole by a thin array of wires. It was minus two of its four sharp metal blades, and I was not looking forward to fixing that thing should Joshua and I plan on an extended stay.

          Three knocks came at the door, followed by two knocks, and then three again. I rose from my chair and let Joshua in before closing it behind him. His hands were full of brown paper bags whose corners were soaked in some sort of grease. 

          Joshua dumped the bags onto our rickety Family Dollar card table and riffled through them.

          "I got you the broccoli and chicken, the lo mein, and the General Tso's," he told me.

          "Joshua, we need to have a talk," I told him.

          "Can it wait until after we eat?"

          "No," I said quietly. "I don't think so."

          Joshua turned to me, a styrofoam container in his right hand and a plastic fork in his left.

          "You got something you want to say to me, bro?" he said in a politely angry voice.
          "Why is she here?" I pointed toward the naked woman on the bed.

          "We'll get to that after we eat."

          "I think we'd better get to it now, Joshua."

          "And I think you'd better sit the hell down and eat your damn Chinese before it gets cold." 

          My brother dropped his container of food on the table and pulled up a scuffed wooden stool before he sat down to eat. 

          I was still standing there, looking at him, waiting for an apology that I knew would never come.

          "Come on, bro," Joshua said without looking my direction. "Nobody likes cold Chinese."

          I turned my chair around to face our Family Dollar special and dug in. Joshua presented me with a large iced tea in a white styrofoam cup, and I took gulps of it in between scarfing down my Chinese grub. I had no idea how hungry I'd been, and it took me a long time to realize that I hadn't eaten since yesterday. There was something very, very wrong with that.

          I was halfway through my meal when the young lady cleared her throat again.

          "Can I have something to drink?" she asked, her voice raspy from lack of liquid refreshment.

          I reached for my iced tea and went to insert the straw, but Joshua snatched the straw out of the cup and crunched it in his hand.

          "You don't deserve a drink, bitch," he said. 

          "Joshua, come on," I said in a low whisper. "She hasn't had anything to eat or drink in two days."

          "Oh, so suddenly you care about her well-being?" My brother gave me a disapproving look. "What's gotten into you?"

          "Maybe if you told me why we're keeping her--"

          "Hey!" the woman shouted from her handcuffed prison. "It's a studio apartment! I can totally hear you guys and I want some answers! Who the hell are you and why the fuck am I even here?!"

          I jerked in her direction, my blood starting to boil from a mixture of her agitation and my own agitation toward my brother. Joshua wiped his mouth with a napkin, stood from the table, and put a hand on my right shoulder.

          "You finish your dinner," he said. "I'll handle this."

          My eyes were fixed on the naked woman's body as Joshua pulled his leather jacket off and dropped it to the floor. He followed by unbuckling his belt and unzipping his jeans. Before he went any further, he looked over his left shoulder at me with chilling eyes.

          "Go on, bro," he said in his politely angry voice. "Eat up. When I'm done, it'll be your turn." He nodded slowly to me, like a father assuring a child who is learning to ride a bicycle, and straddled the woman on the mattress.

          I turned back to my meal as Joshua had his way with her. Sounds of her struggle and his assault splintered through my ears as I shoveled the last of my dinner into my mouth. The worse the sound got, the faster I ate, and by the time Joshua was finished, so was I.

          As I took a long drink of my iced tea, one thought ricocheted through the walls of my cranium.

          I didn't even know her name.

          How could I have kidnapped, stripped, cuffed, and guarded an innocent woman without knowing her name?

          More importantly, would I ever know her name?

#

          Joshua threw his jacket on the back of my chair and dropped his stool at the foot of the bed. The mattress had fresh stains on it from where Joshua had conducted his business with the woman, and it was all I could do not to stand up and pound the hell out of him for what he'd done to her. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't her pal or her savior. I just didn't go for kidnapping and rape. It had never been my thing. Joshua, on the other hand...

          My brother reached inside his coat pocket and removed a stubby .38 Special from its confines. It was black as the night sky, and as he opened the chamber, I could see it was fully loaded with six slugs. He gave the chamber a spin, snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist, and sat on his stool carefully, holding the .38 in his right hand with his thumb on the hammer.

          The woman on the bed wore a face of humiliation and shame as Joshua aimed the .38 at the space between her thighs.

          "Hey," I warned him, "what the hell are you doing?"

          "You want to know why we abducted Pussy Galore here and tied her up in this shitty apartment?" Joshua motioned toward her with his free hand. "Here's your chance."

          "What do you two want with me?" the woman asked in a shaky voice. Her fiery personality had been doused somewhat, courtesy of my brother.

          "Do you know a guy by the name of Jim Lydecker?" Joshua asked her.

          "Of course I do," she replied. "He's my grandfather."

          "And Jim Lydecker knew a man nick-named Goliath, correct?"

          "I've...heard my grandfather mention his name," she said warily. "Why?"

          "Goliath was our father," Joshua explained, pointing at me. "His real name was George C. Hemmingsworth, but whenever he got in the ring, they called him Goliath."

          "Explains a lot," she said. "The three of you must share the same inferiority complex."

          Joshua cocked the hammer on the .38. She bit her bottom lip as her eyes widened in terror.

          "Now, back to the story," Joshua said with polite anger. "Goliath was on his way to win the U.S. heavyweight title back in his day."

          "Can you speed this up? I've got a doctor's appointment in the morning."

          Joshua jammed the .38 against her snatch. She quaked with fear.

          "You want to be cute?" he seethed. "Be cute one more time, and the first one's going up the pipe." He scowled at her. "Is that what you want?"

          The woman shook her head rapidly. I could see tears building in her eyes. My blood boiled again. I couldn't take much more of this.

          "Like I said," Joshua continued, "Goliath was set to win the championship. Then he was introduced to Jim Lydecker, a big fight promoter at the time." Joshua's eyes never wavered from the woman on the bed. "Lydecker told our father that if he threw the heavyweight match, he'd double the champ's prize money and hand it over to him once the match was over."

          "You never told me any of this, Joshua," I said. "Why now?"

          "Because it just so happens that I owe fifty large to a loan shark and I ain't got a dime to pay it with, okay?!" It was the first time I'd seen Joshua lose his cool in front of anyone, including me. His face contorted into a sneer, and his eyes grew wild like a tiger's. I'd never seen him like this before, and I had to admit, I was terrified.

          "What's fifty grand got to do with her?!" I demanded, rising to my feet. Another siren went past, and when the lightning bolt pulsed through my brain this time, all of the facts fell into place.

          "There's that look," the woman said. "Only it's a little different now." She jerked her chin toward me. "There's a spark of intelligence behind those eyes."

          "Dad was supposed to get fifty grand from Lydecker for throwing the fight," I said slowly, "and when he didn't, he went after the douche bag, and ended up being murdered?"

          "Oh my God, bro!" Joshua scratched his forehead with the stubby barrel of the .38. "It took you this long to put that together?"

          "Look, I don't know what my grandfather did with that money!" the woman shouted from the bed. "He did a lot of shady things back then, and whatever he left undone, he took it to his grave!"

          Joshua and I exchanged glances. 

          "You mean he's dead?" Joshua asked.

          "That's usually what happens when people are put in graves," the woman quipped, "or didn't your dip shit daddy tell you that?"

          Joshua lifted the .38 in one swift motion and put his index finger against the trigger.

          "There you go again," Joshua said in that polite anger of his. "Trying to be cute."

          I swatted at the revolver as Joshua squeezed the trigger. The clap of the shot filled the apartment and rendered all of us deaf for a brief moment. The bullet passed through the mattress and into the floor, its path taking it centimeters from the woman's left ear.

          Joshua backed up on the balls of his feet, steadied himself, and turned to me. His sneer was longer, sharper, and way more intense than before.

          "Now you've gone and done it, bro," he said. "Now I'm going to kill you too!"

          Joshua lunged at me, tackling me to the floor. The two of us tangled up into a mess of limbs and slid into the card table, spilling what was left of our dinners and drinks on ourselves.

          Joshua was on his feet first, smacking me across the face with the .38 and making a solid connection with my nose. He followed that up by slamming his wrists into both sides of my head, knocking me dizzy, before he brought his knee into my solar plexus as the grand finale.

          I fell to my knees, desperately trying to fill my empty lungs, as Joshua grabbed me by my hair and jerked my head back. The .38 was in my face before I could utter any sound, and as Joshua cocked the hammer, I had the funny feeling I was going to follow in my father's footsteps.

          "You made a big mistake today, bro," Joshua whispered. "You went against my wishes, and nobody goes against my wishes!" His breath was hot against my face. "Have I made myself clear?"

          "Crystal clear," I said, finding enough oxygen to utter the words. "There's just one problem." 

          "Oh, I'm dying to hear what it is," Joshua replied in an ingratiating tone.

          "The ceiling fan you wanted me to fix?"

          "What about it?"

          "I never did."

          Joshua looked up at the swaying ceiling fan, loosened by our struggle, as the wires holding it in place snapped one by one. Joshua screamed as I shoved him beneath the fan at the moment the final wire severed. Those old metal blades, sharp as they were, sliced through Joshua's flesh, tearing his chest and abdomen to ribbons.

          As my brother's blood gushed out onto the floor and pooled under his body, I turned to look at the woman on the bed, still naked, still handcuffed, still looking at me like I was her enemy.

          I fished the .38 from the mess of Joshua's hands and blasted the cuffs off the lady in question, who promptly kneed me in the nuts and slapped me stupid for a good five minutes. Who knew she had that much fight left in her?

          As she collapsed onto the floor, I put a hand under the mattress and retrieved her clothes. She looked at me with grateful eyes this time, but as she started to slip into them, a siren blasted out front of the apartment building and made both of us freeze.

          "Go," she said. "Get out of here!"

          "Are you crazy?" I said back. "I'm not going anywhere!"

          "They won't believe anything you tell them! You're still one of the bad guys, remember?"

          "I’ll take my chances."

          I tossed the .38 on the floor, got down on my knees, and put my hands behind my head.

          "Don’t you get it?" she said. "They’ll put you away for life!"

          "I know."

          A look of stark realization passed over her face as pounding footsteps announced the arrival of the York City Police Department. They burst in with Glocks drawn, shouting things I no longer heard, as they read me my rights, slapped handcuffs around my wrists, and drug me downstairs to the squad car.


          Six months later, I was sentenced to sixty years in prison, with the possibility of parole in thirty years. By then I’d be ninety years old. I’d probably die in prison, that much I knew, but I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. 

          One day before my sixty-first birthday, the woman on the bed came to see me. She was dressed in a Penn State hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans, and black Converse hi-top sneakers. She didn’t look any different, but I could tell the ordeal Joshua and I put her through had taken a toll on her spirit.

          She took her seat across from the glass partition and grabbed the phone. I grabbed mine and waited for her to speak.

          "I’m sorry for what’s happened to you," she said. "You didn’t deserve this."

          "Yes, I did," I told her. "What I did wasn’t right."

          "But you made it right in the end. Don’t you see that?"

          I shook my head. I don’t think I’d ever see any of it as "right."

          She leaned toward the glass and whispered into the phone. She seemed distraught over something.

          "When Joshua..."

          "Raped you?"

          "...he made me pregnant."

          I leaned back in my chair, the air leaving my chest in one long, sad sigh. As if this couldn't get any worse...

          "What are you going to do?" I asked.

          Tears welled up in her eyes. "You mean did." A tear trickled down her face. "I aborted it." She stifled a sob and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

          "Do you regret it?"

          "Every day...but I didn't want to have a rapist's child."

          I nodded.

          "Why didn't you testify at my trial?" I asked the woman.

          Her eyes widened a bit, as if she were casting her mind back to that awful summer night six months ago.

          "I couldn't bring myself to do it," she explained. "I was still too traumatized by it all. I didn't want to relive that again." She closed her eyes. "Please try to understand."

          "I do," I said. "Don't worry."

          A security guard stepped toward me and pointed to his watch. 

          "My time's up, I'm afraid," I said. "Thanks for stopping by."

          The woman nodded and went to put the phone back on the cradle. I caught her attention and pointed to the phone. She put it back up to her ear and listened.

          "I never got your name," I said.

          "It's Rachel," she said with a chuckle. "Rachel Lydecker."

          "I'm Gus Hemmingsworth," I replied. "Hello, Rachel."

          "Hello, Gus."

          The security guard stormed toward me and pointed to his watch again. I stood from my chair, as did Rachel, and I looked her in the eye for the first time.

          "Goodbye, Rachel."

          "Goodbye, Gus."

          We hung up our phones at the same time, and neither of us looked back.

          Rachel never came to visit me again. I like to think she met a nice guy and is having some kids of her own at the moment. I also think about what I could have done differently that night, in order to make things come out where nobody had to die and nobody gets a sixty-year sentence, but all the scenarios I've played out in my head never end well. 

          The simple fact is I could have stopped Joshua at any time. I could have stopped him from kidnapping Rachel, cuffing Rachel, and raping Rachel...but I didn't. I was scared of Joshua and what he'd do to me and her. But I've also learned an important lesson: every action has consequences, and while my actions landed me with this eight by eight cell, Joshua's actions cost him his life.

          And damn him to hell anyway.








Justin Swartz was raised in Uniontown, PA, about fifty miles south of Pittsburgh. He loves his coleslaw, his pierogies, and his Steelers, thank you very much. He's been published in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled, Yellow Mama, and Dead Guns Press. You can read more of Justin's fiction at http://lastgunsmoking.blogspot.com. You can also reach Justin for comments & questions at his e-mail: robojammies@gmail.com.

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