“Bruno, you don’t have to kill him.” I was wasting my time. If Bruno wanted to kill someone, nobody could talk him out of it, least of all me.
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll start on you next.” Bruno was the enforcer in this part of town. He was somewhere around six-foot-five and built like a brick shithouse. He spent at least an hour a day in the gym, so one punch was usually all it took to put most men on the ground. They banned him from cage-fighting for being too violent.
My job was to drive him around. Bruno was in a constant state of road-rage, so the people who paid him paid me to drive instead. That was the closest thing to control anybody exercised over Bruno. He tolerated it because he got to sit in the back seat yelling and cursing at me while he worked his sports-book app. Saying “sorry” fifty times a day was the best way to stay on what passed for his good side.
Today, the guy on the ground was a new community organizer. He was a do-gooder, here to help clean up a neighborhood where rich suburbanites could buy drugs without getting out of their car. Everybody was happy with the arrangement except the people who lived here. They complained to the new organizer, so he promised to take on the dealers. He played football for some little division three college so he thought he knew rough stuff. He was finding out the hard way just how rough it can get on the street.
We saw the guy walking past some abandoned factories. I pulled into an alley and Bruno grabbed him as he passed. Soon, he was in the basement of an abandoned factory with a busted arm.
“Quit crying, you pussy.” Bruno kicked the guy in the kidney to emphasize his point.
I tried to distract him. “Bruno, you said to remind you we’re supposed to collect from the bakery guy next.” Bruno liked collecting from the bakery guy because he’d help himself to a box of donuts.
“Okay.” He looked at the guy on the ground. “Crawl back to your mommy, asshole.” He gave the guy a hard farewell kick right in the chest. The guy’s body jerked like he was hit with a live electric-line. He gave an agonizing gasp and went still.
I watched the guy for a few seconds. “I think he’s dead.”
Bruno was looking at his phone. “Tough shit for him.” He began walking away. I followed.
As we were ready to walk out, I heard crying. There was a kid, a young girl, hugging the dead guy on the floor. I was so startled that I stopped. It was a mistake, but too late to fix it. Bruno turned and saw where I was looking.
“Shit.” He turned and started towards the kid.
“No, you can’t kill a kid.” I wasn’t exactly a moral person, but killing kids was too much.
“No witnesses.” His hand went to his gun.
I saw an old four-by-four sitting in a trash pile. I knew what I was doing was stupid, but I grabbed it and went after Bruno. My problem is I’m old and I’m slow and my footsteps are loud. He heard me before I was close enough to take a swing, so he turned and put one in my stomach. As he turned back to the kid, I pulled my phone out to call nine-one-one, but I didn’t expect what came next.
The kid stood up so suddenly that even Bruno wasn’t ready for her move. She pulled a gun from behind the dead guy’s back and shot Bruno point-blank in the face.
It was a little revolver, maybe a twenty-five or thirty-two. Bruno looked like he was smacked with a Louisville Slugger. He staggered back, confused. He leaned against a pillar with his gun still pointed at the floor. The girl walked right up to him, as calm as if she were ordering an ice-cream cone. Bruno started to raise his gun but she stopped him with two shots in the neck and chest. He bled out fast.
I didn’t move. I just stared.
She took Bruno’s wallet and put it in her pocket. Next she took the cash out of the dead guy’s wallet, wiped the gun, and put it in his hand. Then she came over to me.
“Thank you for trying to save me. Give me your phone and I’ll call an ambulance.” She held her hand out.
I couldn’t understand how she could be so calm after killing the nastiest bastard I’ve ever known. Something seemed wrong, but my hand was shaking so bad I handed her my phone.
She looked at it and asked for my PIN. She typed it in and the screen lit up, but, instead of calling for help, she walked over to Bruno and took his picture. I yelled, “What are you doing?”
She looked at me with eyes that were flat and devoid of emotion, the kind of eyes Bruno had before she shot them out. “I need a picture and the wallet to collect the reward.”
This conversation seemed surreal. “Reward?”
“The people in the neighborhood set up a GoFundMe page for anyone who takes care of the ‘rat’ problem. I need proof to collect.”
I stared at her, speechless.
I guess she thought I needed more of an explanation. “It’s enough to get me and my mom out of the shelter.”
I looked down at my stomach. My shirt was soaked with blood. “Call me an ambulance, hurry.”
She looked at me for several seconds then put the phone in her pocket. “Sorry.”
She started to walk away but stopped and looked back. “No witnesses.”
About the author:
Al Kanach wasted many years building things like power and pharmaceutical plants – and sometimes knocking them down. Now he’s gotten down to some serious writing and has had stories appear in Yellow Mama, Close to the Bone, Shotgun Honey, Mystery Tribune and Pulp Modern. He’s sending out his first (crime) novel and finishing a political thriller.
To: Bernice Milic
From: Clevus Von Clevus
Date: Monday, January 17 09:15:33 CST
Subject: Acknowledgments for BODY IN THE CREEK
Please find the file for BITC acknowledgments attached.
Faithful Reader, BODY IN THE CREEK is book number twenty-two, and I can’t believe it. As a fresh widower, please indulge this old writer a set of acknowledgments as unique as these last trying months.
First, great thanks to Celine Stone, agent extraordinaire, for her patience, especially through this fraught time.
All praise to my editor, Bernice Milic, whose steady eye is not unlike that of an Olympic volleyball line judge, scrupulously discerning what to leave in, what to leave out.
A debt of gratitude to the anonymous Twitter author of the myriad ways to eliminate DNA evidence from dead bodies. Immersing in water, I knew, but the ingenious idea of dousing a dead body with a fire extinguisher is amusing to practice in one’s garage, or so I’m told.
To Coach Jim Green who once showed me how to properly bend at the knees when lifting something heavy. That advice has been useful as I age and ferry dead weight now and again.
And to my wife, Irene, my muse, my inspiration for BITC, a cautionary tale about wanting more. Darling, I should have sensed your wanderlust when I first met you, standing in line to catch that Greyhound. The back of your head dazzled with copper curls, so much that it took me a minute to realize you were carrying a brown paper bag with a live chicken inside. (Reader, the driver politely uttered, Ma’am, you may not board with a live chicken.) I beheld Irene in one of her rare moments as she wrung the chicken’s neck and exclaimed with no small amount of pride, He’s not alive anymore. I stared at a woman as I’ve never stared before.
Irene, that neck-twisting was a sign of adventure to come. We had an interesting union for many years until, buoyed by royalties, we moved to Creekside. We discovered a wonderful walking path, a place for Irene to remind yours truly that I gained weight equal to a six-bottle wine carrier. (Reader, I assure you; Irene knew this weight by heart.)
There was no voyage quite like strolling Creekside with Irene. She was the queen of the anti-praise. Insulting my magazine subscriptions was the most honest, if not banal, attempt to tell me her adoration had taken wing. That fateful conversation led to an announcement about her enrollment in an early morning pottery class. Reader, I shall miss the wondrous creations that I was expected to gush over as if they were portals to elsewhere.
Nonetheless, I thank my wife for relentlessly purchasing items in twos. Irene bought twin fitness tracker watches to “encourage our mutual health and become more attractive.” (Reader, I might have laughed at that once, for my bride and I do not resemble the glorious bodies we commingled onboard that Cleveland-bound Greyhound water-closet.)
The pottery may have been as fleeting as your love. Irene, as you found a new hobby to occupy your attention. (Reader, she synced our fitness trackers wherein I often witnessed her activity and heart rate spiking up around 5:45 a.m., her furious athleticism was made more curious by the absence of additional earthen pots.)
All credit to the designer and genius of said fitness tracker. I discovered that on the dates of the pre-dawn fitness, my wife entertained me with dinnertime bursts of compliments about a new neighbor, handsome John Horton. (Reader, any similarity with my villain, Don Morton, is pure coincidence.)
But, Irene, my lovely, Horton blinded you somehow with his charms and the copious amounts of designer drugs he may or may not have sold at the end of our cul-de-sac. (Reader, it’s a matter of record that a man fitting Horton’s description dropped my wife onto our porch and tore away with a mere, She’s batshit crazy. I told her not to take too much! in his wake.) I weep at the thought.
I put a coffee capsule into the espresso machine. As it swirled and produced miracle froth, I pondered what my fictional hero might do with an expired body. Probably most people consider this question from time to time.
Alas, there is no handbook about what must be done with the unfaithful dead, not that I, Clevus Von Clevus, would ever have a use for such a manuscript and completely disavow knowledge of anyone who may have tampered with a deceased body in or around my vicinity.
All gratitude to my attorney, Les Rosenblatt.
With great admiration to Luigi Tazzini, whose artistry first introduced the handle to the coffee cup. That fateful night’s handle-less cup spilled along the counter where we keep the mail. There I discovered a bill from the phone store disclosing the purchase of not one, but two cell phones. The paperwork revealed two wholly original phone numbers as well.
Thanks to Anne Hunter for the use of her baby stroller. Also, hat tip to P. H. Champ for her essential research in “Guide to Avoiding Doorbell Camera Detection”.
A hurrah to Officer Tatum for his expeditious journey to my doorstep, tenderly and sensitively imparting the news of my wife’s tragic post-death baptism. Officer Tatum, I’m indebted to you for indulging an old writer’s mind when I suggested one might discover a cell phone identical to the drenched one you found in the creek. Your swift decision to direct additional men in blue to the quasi-dubious Horton house, killing two birds with one phone, as it were, solved the sad end to Irene’s demise.
Finally, Reader, thanks to you for boundless support and outpouring of emails and letters about dear Irene, may she rest in pottery.
To: Clevus Von Clevus
From: Bernice Milic
Date: Tuesday, January 18 07:01:29 EST
Subject: Acknowledgments for BITC
Call me ASAP.
About the author:
Karen Harrington is a former corporate speechwriter turned young adult novelist. Her short story work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Shotgun Honey. Her novels, all set in her home state of Texas, were published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Find her at www.karenharringtonbooks.com and @KA_Harrington