Yellow Mama Archives

Brendan Bakala
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Art by Patty Mulligan 2016


By Brendan Bakala


          Doyle’s handcuffs were so tight on my wrists I coulda sworn it was cutting off the circulation. If my hands were turning purple, it was beyond me; both paws were bound behind my back and wrapped around one of the many rotting beams holding up the warehouse roof. Rocco and Vince were dousing the floors with gasoline. Made the whole place stink.

          “This is your last chance, guys,” I warned. “You two don’t strike me as cop-killers.”

          Vince turned around. His face was a combination of adolescent terror and reluctant resignation. “A little late for that now isn’t it?” He pointed over to the bleeding corpse with the fractured skull. “No going back now.”

          “You didn’t kill Doyle.” I said, trying not to stare too long at the body of my partner. “That was your boss. If you let me go now, we can make a deal.”

          “Bullshit,” Rocco sneered. “Best we can hope for is a life sentence. Gimme the chair any fucking day.”

          Vince’s eyes widened at the mention of old sparky. His hands were shaking around the base of the jerry can. The kid was cracking. “That’s not true,” I insisted. “I’ve seen both of your rap sheets. All petty crime. The DA will make a deal─”

          “Shut the fuck up.” Rocco threw down the gas can and pulled Doyle’s revolver out of his waistband. “Or so help me God, I’ll kneecap you.”

          I was getting to him. “Beats getting burned alive.”

          Rocco raised the revolver. “How about getting shot and burned, pig?”

          “Stop it!” Vince said. “Maybe we should listen─”

          “Shut up, Vince.” Rocco kept the barrel trained on me. “Get the matches.”

          Vince looked as if he was about to say something when a faint sound arose from the distance. It started out slow and constant, like the buzzing of an insect. Each second it grew louder and louder, booming with the urgent, high-pitched, shriek only a police siren was capable of.

          It was now or never.

“Last chance,” I warned. “Let me go and we can still craft this thing. I’ll tell ‘em it was Joe that did this. You guys can be the heroes who found me and freed me.”

The name of his employer made Vincent pause. The kid’s eyes lit up like he’d just found a golden ticket in his Wonka bar. A way out. That’s all he wanted.

Rocco’s lower lip quivered and his gun hand began to tremble. “Vince. Get the fucking matches.”

Vince looked to me and then to his friend. “Rocco─”

Rocco pivoted and pointed the gun at Vince. He had a crazed look in his eyes like he’d just seen Satan, Shiva, and Socrates all at once. Fear, awe, and confidence in what he was doing. “Get the goddamn matches.”

“Take it easy, Rock.” Vince took a couple more steps back. “Put down the gun.”

“I’ll put it down when you do what I fucking say.” Rocco moved closer to him. “Get. The. Matches.”

Vince kept his hands up. “Okay.”

Just as Rocco was taking another step, his right foot landed on a stray puddle of gas. He struggled for a moment and slipped like he’d just stepped on a banana peel. Vince froze for a brief second and then dived on top of Rocco. My heart raced. I tried to free myself from the beam, thrashing the cuffs against the wood, but the whole exercise was as useless as a bowl of plastic fruit. I kept my eyes on the fray and let out the loudest roar I could manage. “HERE! I’m in here!” I prayed the cops were close enough to hear me. “HELP!”

Vince sent a balled-up fist straight into Rocco’s right eye, followed by a smack to the jaw. Rocco’s head hit the floor hard. The kid wrapped one hand around Rocco’s throat and reached for the revolver that Rocco was still clutching. Grunts and yells echoed off the walls as the two wrestled for control of the pistol. Rocco used his free hand to push Vince onto his side and from that point on all I could make out of the fray was Rocco’s back. It convulsed, heaving in and out, like an animal being eaten alive by a lion.

There was a gunshot.

Rocco’s back went stiff as a board. The smell of cordite filled the air and I stopped shouting. I fixed my eyes on Rocco’s body, looking for any sign of life. The room went so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

A low, guttural moan creeped up. Rocco twitched and rolled over on his back. Lying next to him was a motionless Vince with a single, quarter-sized entry wound just under his nose.

Shock. Horror. Despair.

Rocco got to his feet. His face was bloodied and his breathing labored. He dropped the gun and went to a small stool not too far from Vince’s mortal coil. The sounds of the sirens grew louder. My gut told me they were two minutes away. Two minutes too late.

 Rocco leaned over the stool and picked up a box of Diamond brand matches.

“You don’t have to do this,” I offered.

“No, I don’t.”

He pulled out a single match and struck it. The small fire seemed to light up the whole warehouse. An omen of what was to come.

I struggled against the cuffs, pulling the chain hard against the beam. Steel cut deep into my flesh, sending droplets of blood down my hands to the fingertips. “Please.”

A devious smile took Rocco’s face. “What’s the matter? Don’t like bacon?”

He let go of the match.

Brendan Bakala grew up in Chicagoland with too much time on his hands and a healthy fear of fire and handcuffs. When he came of age, his parents enrolled him in a college prep school run by Benedictine monks with a compulsory JROTC program. He went to a small, liberal-arts, Catholic school few have even heard of,with two humanities degrees that no one cares about. He spends his free time spinning yarns, drinking cheap beer, and smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

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