Taking a man’s fingers off one at a time takes planning.
The right room and location. You’d be surprised at how much noise is involved
when it comes to dismemberment. Especially when a man has to give up seven
fingers before he decides to comply with Frank’s wishes. You can’t do that kind
of job in a hotel room or a corporate office—you need isolation and atmosphere.
And it takes time to create that atmosphere—the plastic sheeting, sturdy
furniture, restraints. And then there’s the matter of disposal. You shouldn’t
rush a job like that.
But this Jackson job was a rush job, from the sound of it.
A job Frank wanted done right goddam now. Which was why he asked me to do it.
Frank knows that when I walk away from a job, the other guy never does.
Me and Bird were just coming off a job in Louisiana, a
two-day deal in Lafayette, and we had twenty grand between us. I say between us
because Bird had the bigger sum, since he was the one who pulled the trigger
this time. The payoff set us up for a
comfortable couple of days off in a casino in Biloxi. Or so we thought.
We were sitting in the parking lot of the Beau Rivage
casino after the three-hour drive when Bird’s phone rang. I climbed out of the
car into the stifling Mississippi heat to stretch my legs while he took the
call. As soon as he said, “Yeah, he’s here,” I knew it was Frank on the line.
“Goddammit, Bird,” I said through the passenger window of
the Buick. “Tell him we’re off the clock.”
Bird waved a “shut up” hand at me and nodded as he listened
to Frank. I lit a cigarette and stared at the blinding-white arched entrance of
the casino, dreaming of blackjack, free drinks, and maybe some companionship,
depending on my luck.
“Hey,” Bird called from behind the wheel. I flicked my
smoke to the asphalt and stuck my head in the car.
“That was Frank,” he said, unnecessarily. “He wants us to
do a job.” Also unnecessarily. Why else would Mr. Big Frank Himself call?
I slid into the passenger seat. Fucking Frank and his jobs.
The man had the worst timing in the world, which is probably what happens when
all you do is sit in a room in Atlanta all goddam day, getting other people to
do the kind of work you can’t do for yourself.
“What now?” I said.
“Jackson,” Bird said. “And he wants us there tonight.”
I looked at my watch. Figuring another three hours on the
road, we’d be in Jackson around rush hour. “You gotta be shitting me.”
“Nope,” Bird said.
“What’s the job?”
“Same as Lafayette,” Bird said. “Dude is behind, and Frank
wants us—you—to take care of it. Tonight.”
“Me?” I said.
“He specifically said you,” Bird lit a cigarette of his own
and looked through the windshield. He was done talking and ready to start
“How much?” I said.
“How much he behind or how much we getting paid?” Bird
“Well, the guy is behind twenty-five grand. We get ten
percent, on account it’s a short-fuse kind of thing.”
I thought about it. Frank didn’t often pay me and Bird what
we thought we were worth, so he must really be pissed at this guy. “Hit it,” I
said. Bird cranked up and wheeled the car onto the highway, following the signs
to Highway 49 for the ride to Jackson.
“Betcha money this one won’t be as easy as Lafayette,” Bird
I wasn’t going to be bet against him. Lafayette was about
easy as it could have been.
The way me and Bird worked was Frank gave us an address and
a description, then we found the mark and followed him. Usually, it took a
couple of days of clocking the mark until we knew when we could grab the guy
and get him to an isolated spot. But Ed Landry had made it easy for us. He had
a girlfriend he was trying to keep secret from his wife, and met her at a motel
out of town, on the road to Breaux Bridge. Hell, he practically walked into a
bullet. Which made feeding him to an alligator in the bayou really easy.
I catnapped on the drive, leaving Bird to hum along to
whatever country music station he could find as he wound his way through the
piney woods part of Mississippi.
We pulled into Jackson near dusk, and Bird announced he was
hungry and was going to hit a drive-through.
As we scarfed down burgers and fries in yet another parking
lot, Bird gave me the rundown. We were looking for a white guy in an upscale
neighborhood, which meant we weren’t really doing a job in Jackson proper. Guy
name of Peter Firestone, who had a house in a suburb called Heatherton. I
looked it up on my phone and saw the house was, fortuitously, near a reservoir.
When I told Bird this, he just shrugged. Bird never cared much for details. All
he needed to know was the who and the where of the situation. I was the detail
guy. Maps, routes, the timing of the situation. Because I enjoy my work. Take
pride in it. Bird’s a get ‘er done guy; I’m a professional tradesman. An
artisan, if you like. Frank likes me to do the complicated jobs—getting money
or information out of a guy. Or sometimes just making the fucker really suffer
for pissing Frank off or disrespecting him.
We pulled into the neighborhood just after dark and waited
for this Firestone character to appear. The house was big. Fancy. Brick all the
way around. Two-car garage, door down. Bird parallel-parked across the way from
the house, under a magnolia tree, and leaned his seat back for a nap. I always
took first watch, since Bird did the driving.
We didn’t wait long. Forty minutes later, a sedan came up
from behind us and the garage at Firestone’s house slid up. The car swooped
into the driveway then into the garage. We assumed the driver was Firestone,
but you can’t assume in our job. So we waited some more.
I was just about ready to shake Bird awake to start his
shift when the sedan backed out of the garage, then shot off in the direction
it had come from two hours earlier. Bird heard it, raised up and had our car
behind the sedan in about ten seconds. We followed it through a couple of
suburban turns to the semi-dark parking lot of a package store. Bird pulled to
the curb just as the driver emerged.
“That’s him,” Bird said. “About six foot, blond hair.”
I was already out of the car closing the distance to Peter
Firestone. Bird followed, about ten feet behind me.
Firestone mashed the button on his key fob and the car
security system chirped and the headlights flashed once. He turned toward the
door of the liquor store.
“Hey,” I yelled. “Peter Firestone.” I grasped the nine-mil
at the small of my back.
Firestone spun around, his face a mix of surprise and fear.
He yanked a revolver—a big one—from the front of his khakis.
“Gun!” Bird screamed even as I drew down on Firestone. But
in that tiny space of time, Firestone raised his weapon and fired at me. I felt
a hammer blow to my right leg that felt like lightning and fire had just
stabbed me. I fired a shot that went wild, then collapsed on my wounded leg. I
heard Firestone’s pistol roar again, then again. The night air around me seemed
to fill up with noise and needles pressing into every pore of my body as I
curled up on the asphalt, clawing at a huge wet hole in my leg. I heard another
gun go off from what seemed like a long way off. Had to be Bird taking a shot
at Firestone with the shotgun. Then the night stopped. The noise, the lights,
everything just turned off.
I woke up in a hospital room that smelled like fresh linen
and bleach. IV in my arm. My tongue felt four sizes too big for my mouth. Then
I remembered. I’d been shot.
I slid my hand down my right leg until I felt the bandage,
a huge pile of cool gauze. Relief. Good. I was going to be okay.
But something wasn’t quite right. My left leg was killing
me. I couldn’t remember getting shot there, but the pain was just as bad. I
reached over and felt … nothing.
It didn’t compute in my brain. Where the fuck was my leg? I
swept my hand under the sheet and across where I knew my left leg was. I could
feel the pain in it. But where was it? My hand swept back and forth like a
windshield wiper in a thunderstorm over flat, cool sheets. Just sheets. No leg.
Panicking, I threw the sheet back and stared down at a bandaged stump where my
left leg used to be—even though the pain was escalating, sending glass shards
of agony into my brain. I started hyperventilating and sweating. What the hell
was going on?
I clawed at my pillow for the nurse’s call button and
punched it a dozen times. I wanted to run, and I wanted to puke, but of course
all I could do was lie there. The door to my room swung open, but a nurse
didn’t step through. It was a man, wearing a white doctor’s jacket and a
surgical mask. Even so, and without having to look at the name tag hanging at
an angle off the left breast pocket, I knew the man. Even so, my brain couldn’t
connect the man’s presence with my leg’s absence.
His brown eyes stared at me over the blue surgical mask. I
couldn’t tell if he was smiling, frowning, anything.
“Dr. Peter Firestone,” he said.
I squinted. Doctor. Then it made sense. Doctor as in
He must have seen the light bulb over my head. He pulled
the mask down below his chin. Smirked. Smug bastard. He stepped over to the bed
and patted the football-sized bandage on my wounded leg. “Quite a nasty wound,”
he said. “You lost a lot of blood, but fortunately you got here in time for me
to save the leg.”
I thrashed around in my IV and EKG lines, trying to get at
him, but he stepped back from the bed, crossed his arms, and smiled again. “At
least one leg,” he said.
My mouth felt like it was full of cotton and marbles.
Firestone leaned over, making sure he stayed out of reach
of my flailing arms. “Your boss is a very stupid man,” he said. “I don’t like
being pressured, and I surely don’t like being surprised by thugs in a parking
I swiped snot from my upper lip. “Where’s my fucking leg?”
Another smile. “On its way to Frank,” he said. “I thought
about sending a note telling him to fuck off, but then I thought, no, the leg
would suffice as a statement. Don’t you agree? Yes, I thought you would,” He
peered at me from behind his surgeon’s mask. “And that pain? That’s called
phantom pain. Very common occurrence in amputations. You’ll probably feel it
for years. Maybe the rest of your life.”
I grabbed the bed rail with one hand and arched my back,
ready to propel myself at this savage, but he replaced his mask, shrugged, left
the room and I collapsed back into the bed. I stared at the ceiling and felt
around for the button I knew had to be there, and I when I found it, I punched
it about half a dozen times, hoping to shoot myself up with enough morphine or
dilaudid or whatever they were pushing into me to blot out this whole
The drug hit full force and I zoned out like a junkie.
Some time later—days? Hours?—Bird appeared over my bed, his
triangular face staring down at me, rat eyes boring in on mine. I thought he
was a hallucination until he spoke, and even then I wasn’t quite sure he was
real. I nodded, still smacked out of my mind, as he told me how he’d gone
around the car to pull the shotgun out of the trunk and by the time he’d caught
up to me, Firestone had started shooting. How he’d taken a shot at Firestone,
who fired back at him. Then Firestone had gotten on his phone, and Bird had to
haul ass when he heard the sirens. He was sorry, real sorry, it had gone down
Bird was pale and scared. Never had seen him that way. He
kept running a hand through his dark, thin hair and couldn’t keep his eyes off
the door. He glanced at me. “Anything I can get you, man? I mean, I know it’s
bad. But anything you need, let me know.”
I nodded. Reached out and grabbed Bird by his shirt. Pulled
his face close to mine. “You listening to me, Bird?”
“That surgeon?” I said.
Bird looked a little confused. “Firestone? Yeah, man, what
“Ain’t but one thing I want,” I said.
“What’s that?” Bird said.
I locked eyes with Bird, to make sure he heard me. “His
In addition to having his
story, “Making a Living Making a Killing,” published by Yellow Mama in
October 2015, Phillip Thompson is the author of the Colt Harper crime fiction
series, which includes Deep Blood, the Amazon best seller Outside
the Law, and Old Anger. His short fiction has been
published at The
Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Out of the Gutter Online, and Close to the Bone. He lives in Virginia.
Kevin D. Duncan was born 1958
in Alton, Illinois where he still resides. He has degrees in Political Science, Classics,
and Art & Design. He has been freelancing illustration and cartoons for over 25 years.
He has done editorial cartoons and editorial illustration for local and regional newspapers,
including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His award-winning
work has appeared in numerous small press zines, e-zines, and he has illustrated
a few books.