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Jeremiah Minihan
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theybothhadguns.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2018

They Both Had Guns

By

Jeremiah Minihan


They both had guns. That was the thing. Oh, I know I should have been more careful-- the girl is always telling me that. She wants me to pack up and live with her and all, but how could I do that?

         Anyway, they were nothing alike. It would be hard if I had to tell the police to help them with a sketch. The one guy was small, and he was sniffling like crazy and his taller friend kept nudging me with his weapon.

I've faced guns before in the army.

Although they kept their faces in the shadows, I thought I could do a pretty good job sizing them up.

 You usually assume that the taller guy would be the quiet one, the fellow in charge, while the smaller one would nod and follow.

              I fact it was the other way around.

             They didn’t talk much, and I liked that. I wasn't sure where they were taking me—not to my house. That was clear. Maybe they were after money or some of my possessions.

 It was a mystery at first.

The three of us had turned the corner now. All the houses in the neighborhood looked the same—you know, the old Victorian style, now broken down and droopy. And they all smelled faintly of cat piss, even if there had been no cats in them for decades.
The guys looked at each other from time to time as they nudged me along. I was not scared, not yet.

Laurel and Hardy. That's what I would call them. The tall guy would be Laurel, of course, but he did not seem at all like the gangly goof in those old movies. That would mean that the other guy was Hardy, but that did not fit either.

We were moving now toward the end of the block—nothing suspicious, just two boys and their old dad out for a walk. I recognized the house—the King place, abandoned for years. It was built by Simon King, a distinguished young officer in the Civil War who had done some horrible things in the Philippines around 1900. He was to have been court martialed, but resigned instead.

The place had been vacant for a long time. After the auctions and estate sales, I'm sure the place had been stripped to the bone.

Why were they taking me here?  I had no choice but to follow Mutt and Jeff. I suppose that I was not really frightened—I was more confused than frightened.

  "Cici " I heard one of them say—I think the little guy. Why were they speaking my daughter's name? Did they know her? Both men were older than her, rough looking, nothing like the pretty executive my daughter had become.

           "Hurry up, old man." The tall one shoved me. I must have been slowing up. I don’t move quickly any more. We had gone around the back— it was all dark of course, but the moon gave some thin light—just the usual ghostly shadows in this neighborhood. Nothing suspicious.

 The shorter guy had gone ahead, forcing the back door. There was a faint odor in the place, the familiar kind you smell when things have been closed off. We passed through the kitchen—an undistinguished place of dull counters and peeling linoleum. There were no furnishings, of course, only the spectral images of where they had been.

 I had been in the house years ago, when the home was being dismantled. I knew there were two parlors—east and west—framing the old front door. For some reason the shades were still in place—the big guy had gone ahead and was pulling all of them down. It did not make a difference, though, since the tall trees and bushes in the front would have hidden any movement within.

Between the two rooms was a wall with a pretty stained glass window. Abbott walked past it and then murmured something to Costello. The little guy—he really wasn't as chubby as the comedian—swung back at the window and smashed it with a quick crack of the pistol. The remnants could have been repaired, but he turned back and finished the job, carefully breaking each of the little pieces of glass which must have taken someone a long time—a century ago—to put together.

Why had he done that? There was no cause to be so destructive.

"You know what is going to happen." The tall one was speaking.

"Should I?"

          "Don't be a smartass."  This time it was the little guy. He had gone before us and turned small lights on in each of the parlors flanking the hall. They were both talking intensely, muttering how surprised they were that an up-and-coming executive like my daughter had gotten herself into so much trouble. We can't do anything to her, one of them said. After all she has to stay nice and healthy so she can pay up.

They were both looking at me and about to ask me a question. But they did to need to say it. I knew I was going to die. I had known it for a while.
           They showed me two rooms then, each of the parlors’

"Holler all you like," Shorty taunted. "Not a damn soul will hear you. You know that, Dad, don't you?"

I did know, but I would not give him the satisfaction of an answer.

"Course we will have the gag, right. Don't want to have the old guy make too much noise." This was the tall guy talking. He actually sounded kind of stupid. He had an odd accent. I couldn’t place it, but it did not make any difference anyway.

They brought me carefully into each of the two rooms. The wallpaper was early twentieth century at best, and there were swirling plaster patterns on the ceilings and traces of the old woodwork.
             The rooms had no furniture, making the hardwood floors creak in an odd, uneasy way.

Each room had a single wooden chair in the center and one or two chairs near the back for the audience.

They took me slowly into each room. In one of them—the east parlor if I had my direction right—there was nothing, no implements. In the other was a short table with knives, pliers, saws and ropes. I looked quickly. There might have been more tools, but I was too tired and too anxious to notice.

When they brought me again out to the hall, the little one turned me from room to room, asking which one I was going to choose.

The taller, stupider one kept saying "door number one or door number two" in a swooping voice like the announcer on a silly game show.

I also knew that I would suffer before the end.

"Well, which one is it?" Shorty asked.

I hesitated. I guessed that one of them would be the key person in each of the parlors.

"Hurry up old man."

I pointed to the bare room, thinking that there would be less pain there than in the torture room.

They both smiled and led me in, taking their time tying me down.

I thought again about my choice.

It was not long before I realized that I had chosen wrongly.







Jeremiah Minihan lives in Rochester, New Hampshire. He has worked in the financial services area. He writes short stories and essays, and has recently published a story in Dark Dossier.

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