Fight Night

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Asuka wiped the blood away from her eyes. A flying superman punch grazed her brow. She quickly dodged it, but not fast enough. She felt the gloved fist slicing her head, a tiny itch like a mosquito bite. Then the sweat and the blood began to mix in her right eye, blocking out her vision on her right side. Sarah Cortez could have struck again taking advantage of this new development. Asuka quickly cleaned her eye, keeping her left arm up to block any more mischief. Her internal clock reminded her there was two minutes left in the round.

The blood kept trickling in, swirling with sweat and stinging her eye. Asuka ignored it, trying to focus on the advice screamed at her from her side of the octagon; Dan Parnell screaming at the top of his lungs, trying to pierce through the dense noise of the crowd.

“Keep you hands up, close the gap. Close the gap.”

Asuka was about six paces away from Sarah with her back almost against the fence. Bad move with Sarah “The Terminator” Cortez closing the gap with a quick low kick and a few jabs. Asuka kept circling, keeping the hands up. She wanted to strike, but she couldn’t. Her body wouldn’t, it was holding her back.

She was afraid.

A left leg swung at her midsection. Asuka bent low to guard her ribs. The leg smacked her right arm with the full force of ten years of Muai Thai training. The impact was like a steel bat had hit her. Asuka’s elbow dug into her ribs with the full force of the kick. She cried out through her mouthguard.  She moved quickly away, but Sarah kept coming. Now she knew why Sarah got the nickname, she absolutely would not stop, ever, until Asuka was dead.

One minute left.

Her ribs hurt, blind in her right eye and her heart pounding against her chest. Still, Asuka’s body seized up, refusing to attack. She heard Dan cry out, “Fucking attack, get in there. Attack!.”

Goddamnit, Dan, I want to. But, if I get close she’ll fucking murder me. I can’t win.

Sarah’s hard brown eyes locked in with Asuka’s. Asuka thought she saw a quick smirk cross the woman’s lips. She knew what Asuka was thinking. That’s right bitch, just try to attack. Can’t stop the terminator. Sarah pounced, leaping into the air like a tiger on the attack, a flying roundhouse kick. Asuka almost didn’t notice, the movement was too fast, to swift for her body to calculate how to react.

All she did was ducked.

The foot flew over her head; Sarah landed right in front of her.

Now’s your chance!

The tension was gone, the force that held Asuka back had receded. She looked right into Sarah’s eyes, staring deep into the wide pupils as her right fist fell on Sarah’s jaw. Asuka dropped her punch like she was Thor summoning all the might of Noer for one mighty blow. She drove into the jaw, pushing her body against Sarah’s face, almost losing her balance in the process. The crowd roared at the turn of events. The underdog had upsetted the script, now she was the attacker, the one in control. Sarah wobbled, her legs like stilts now, the glassy look in her eyes like she didn’t know where the fuck she was.

Asuka charged at the Terminator, knocking her ass on the floor. They tumbled to the ground like wrestlers. Asuka was on top, got past Sarah’s guard and pressed her legs tight against Sarah’s body. The face was open and Asuka began raining fist like she was beating up her pillow when she was young. Punch after punch finding their mark, bashing against Sarah’s face. Boom, boom, boom, boom.

“Stop, stop, stop!”

The referee pulled Asuka away from Sarah’s, waving his arm in the air. The bell rang three times; the chime of victory, the chime of defeat.

Night at The Round-About

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Johnny sipped his scotch and looked at his watch. Eleven thirty, almost time. He looked up at the band on stage, the quartet jamming away, a soft fusion number that gripped the crowd. Johnny liked the tune, got him tapping his fingers. The lights of the bar were low, the candles on the tables twinkling like fireflies in the night. The Round-About was the only live Jazz club in Milwaukee, the only place Johnny felt comfortable in.

A man sat next to Johnny at the bar. The man wore a large black overcoat, leather gloves and a scarf tied around his neck. Johnny could see the tiny specks of snow hanging on the man’s hair. His nose red like a Russian.

Johnny said, “Pretty cold?”

The man let out a short huff. “So cold the witch’s tits called in sick. How can you people live out here?”

“Lake view, mostly.”

“You can get that anywhere without the cold. What you drinking?”

Johnny answered and the man ordered one from the bartender. The bartender was a thin girl with stick arms and a big chest. She handed the man his drink; he held the glass, the cubes tickling in the amber liquid. He looked hard at the woman, she gave a slight smile and moved on.

The man said, “At least there’s one good thing about this place,” the man said.

“Come around more often,” Johnny said. “She’s here Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

The man took another quick glance. “Still, not enough to get me going.”

The band finished their set. Applause sprang up throughout the club. Johnny and the man joined in, the man leaning to the side with each clap.

“You feeling alright?” Johnny asked.

“Like you really care.”

“You’re right. I really don’t. Still, I’m curious.”

The man chuckled. “The whole world’s too goddamn curious. Ain’t your problem, man. I just drink, ain’t nothing more than that. Christ, it’s cold.”

“I get that,” Johnny said.

“I thought you midwestern types appreciate straight talk.”

“Yeah, but we appreciate a bit of respect instead of some drunk running his mouth in front of a stranger.”

“Packers suck, too.”

Johnny shrugged, finished his drink and set the glass down, not looking at the man. He waved the bartender over to him. “Mr. Lorenzo here?”

“Yes,” the bartender said.

“Can you tell him Johnny’s here. I need to see him. He’ll know who I am.”

The girl left the bar and walked across the main floor. She disappeared behind a corner and came back a minute later. “Mr. Lorenzo will see you.”

“What makes you so damn popular?” the man said. He had finished his drink and had his back to the band. Johnny just looked at him and walked away. He walked towards the hallway at the other end of the building. Rounding the corner Johnny saw the door at the end of the hall. He opened the door. A bald man with round-rim glasses looked up from the papers that strew across the small desk. The man looked up and smiled. “Been a while Johnny Boy.”

Johnny didn’t say a word. He walked to the desk and took a seat across from Lorenzo.

Lorenzo said, “Milwaukee treating you well?

“Can’t complain, except for the drunks.”

“Yeah, we get a few of those. Thank God they’re not what keeps this place going. Be bottom up if I did.”

“How the games going?” Johnny asked, clasping his hands together.

“Been steady. Just got the last drop a few hours ago and been waiting for ya. Not even the stick-up job in Kenosha did much of a dent.”

“Yeah, we’ve heard about that.”

“Twin Cities got it that fast, eh?”

“Not just that. They heard it was your call to stage that Kenosha job.”

“People got active imagination” Lorenzo rocked slightly in his leather chair, the squeaks of the chair echoed in the room. “Where they get that from?”

Johnny’s thumbs rubbed against each other. “You got big talkers out in Kenosha. Should’ve done your homework, get someone that knows how to keep their mouths shut.”

“Like I said, where you that from? Where’s the proof.”

Johnny kept silent, his eyes stayed locked on Lorenzo. The muffled sounds of music seeped through the closed door.

Johnny pulled out the gun. The bullet smashed through Lorenzo’s clean shaven head, smacking him against his chair. Johnny shot again at Lorenzo’s heart. He holstered his gun and pushed the slumped body of Lorenzo away from the desk. A sports bag was tucked under the desk near the dead man’s feet. Johnny unzipped the bag, the green stacks stared back at him. He picked up the bag and walked out, closing the door behind him. Johnny walked away, eyes looking at the exit door on the right. He saw the man at the bar talking to the bartender.

“Can you tell him,” the man said, “his brother’s here.”

Johnny kept going. He passed through the doors out into the dark, snowy night.

This Ain’t Heat

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“Watch those fuckers,” Dave yelled through his ski mask. I kept my AK on the fat-ass guard and the customers. Dave hopped over the teller’s counter and ran to the opened vault.

My grip was tight on the rife, though my breath was seeping out nervously. This wasn’t like the movie “Heat,” no confidence, no badassery or command of presence. We pretty much planned the whole stick-up on the fucking film, looked easy enough to do at the time. Dave wasn’t any better with his confidence; he got control from the bullets fired. People will do anything when a gun is fired at them; heck, they might even blow each other.

“Don’t shoot us, please.” That meek little voice was the bank manager on the floor surrounded by the lowly customers rather than his posh back office he was ripped out of, now he was here among the rest of the turds.

“Shut up,” I said. “Keep talking and you’re gonna get it. We just want the fucking money.” Speaking of which, I saw Dave working away, stuffing the piles of cash in the bag. “You almost finished?” I said. “Starting to grow a fucking beard here.”

Dave zipped up the bag an left the vault, hopping over the counter again. “Good things to those who wait,” Dave said.

“I’ll do my fucking waiting later. Let’s bail.”

Spoke too soon. Sirens.

I looked out the front door, San Bernardino’s finest choking us off from freedom.

“Goddamnit, we came so close,” Dave said. “We ain’t gonna be losers again, right Steve?”

I just kept looking, the swarm of white squad cars like locus. “Got no fucking choice,” I said, my voice shaking as my hand worked the rifle bolt.

“No fucking choice,” Dave repeated. He raised his gun and fired. Bullets shattering the glass doors, the police scattering, people screaming. My hands shook, but I fired anyway. The police shot back, bullets going every which way. Dave grabbed the money bag and bolted for the back exit. I gave some cover fire and sprinted after him. The fools on the ground stayed there, too scared to even try to make an escape.

Escaping out the back way I was surprised, no cops around. Just our car ready to make a B-line for freedom.

“Get in, get in,” Dave yelled. I smacked my head against the roof as I dove in. Fucking smarts, but I’ll be laughing at it as soon as we get the fuck outta here. Dave jammed the key in the ignition, the car roaring to life.

“Hold the fuck on,” Dave said, “We’re…”

Dave’s head exploded, blood smattering the windshield and me.

I froze, what else could I do. You see a sight like that, your friend’s head open and on display across the car and you try fucking doing anything afterwards.

I heard footsteps and yelling, the cops were coming in.

It just wasn’t fucking fair.

 

 

Loser

I’m a fucking loser.

The radio played Human League’s “Mirror Man” while Steve Coogan sat, hands on the wheel but not going anywhere. His eyes looked at the front door of his small bungalow, the small cat ornament hanging on hook. Sarah wanted that; she always liked cat decorations. Steve allowed her to hang it like the dutiful husband he was.

Just a fucking loser.

Steve fixed his red tie, looked at his blue suit and felt ill. His stomach churned, his heart bang like a tap dancer against his ribs. Whenever he lied or the feeling of inadequacy kicked in, these were the feelings he felt. It kicked in when Sarah spoke after breakfast, giving him a goodbye kiss before he left the door, “Don’t let the kids get to you, hon. Enjoy your work today.”

Work. Enjoy your work.

The sky was a clear, crystal blue over Green Bay. The spring weather was good, the sun’s touch bringing life to everything. Things looked brighter, that was probably why Steve felt even sicker, his emotions conflicted with the mandated cheeriness of the scenery. He saw cars leaving the neighborhood, people heading out to places of purpose.

Everyone’s going to work. What about you? What about you, sitting here with your empty briefcase. Where the fuck are you going? Just walk back in there and tell her the truth. Take the screaming and the name calling, take it all. It’s what you’re best at anyway, isn’t it. Being everyone’s punching bag, being their bitch.

Steve’s teeth began to gnash and grate against each other; he jammed his key into the ignition and started up. The front door opened, Sarah came out with a confused look on her face. Steve looked, the anger that twisted his face had turned to stunned shock; he was away in his own hate-filled world and looking at Sarah had called him back. She walked over to him and tapped on the glass. Steve rolled down the window.

“Why didn’t you leave yet?” Sarah said, a thin veil of worry on her face.

“I-I was just thinking I forgot something,” Steve said. Sarah reached over and planted a delicate, soft kiss on Steve’s cheek. “Hope it wasn’t something important.”

“Actually, I remember now.” Steve took hold of Sarah’s small face and returned the kiss, lingering longer than he needed.

“Don’t be late, hon,” Sarah said.

“I won’t be,” Steve said, a faint smile gracing his dry lips. He backed the car out of the driveway, Sarah standing there and waving. Pulling away from the house the view of Sarah grew smaller and smaller.

The feeling of disgust grew larger and larger.

You did this, you bastard. You’re the one that fucked up. No scapegoat here to pass your sins on to. Look in the mirror. There, there, it’s you, you fuck.

Steve’s grip tightened on the steering wheel, his arm wanted to smash through the window, to shatter something, anything. The rage and the disgust, building and crawling within him like cockroaches on a garbage heap, he just wanted to to let it all loose. Steve was on the highway now, people with a purpose zipped past him, his car stuck in the slow lane, the going nowhere fast lane. He thought a driver was laughing at him, the faint mocking laughter hitting him, drilling to his head. That laugh, no that wasn’t was stranger’s laugh. It was his voice, his laughter cutting himself to the bone. Through the chuckles the voice kept repeating the refrain: You ruined everything, You ruined everything, You ruined everything. Steve pulled off the highway towards Lambeau Field.

Amy’s face appeared in his mind’s eye. You. Why do you always come at the worst times. At once he wanted to hold her and kick the shit out of her. The winks, the stares, the playful poking she always gave his arm. She signaled to him and he too the bait. He could have blamed her for everything, for how his life turned, that was fucking easy. Parking in Lambeau Field Steve glanced at the back seat through the review mirror. He remembered Amy’s brown hair sprayed across the seats, her moans and cries echoing in the car, their bodies rocking the vehicle back and forth.

Such a fucking pig.

The school caught wind of it, but Steve never found out how. No one would tell him anything. They only said that he was fired. He was lucky about that, if you can call it luck. There was no definitive proof, just rumors. But rumors can be strong enough to alter one’s perception. The school just sweep it under the rug and he was gone. No more job here or anywhere in the district, an invisible pariah.

Steve stepped out of the car, the warm morning air smacking him in the face. He wished he could go inside the stadium and just sit, sit and look out at the field. He just wanted to be somewhere that made him happy, that brought some joy to him. Walking up to the locked gates with the chain around them crushed that thought.

Girl in The Shadows

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She laid on the bed, cigarette dangling from her hand. The smoke lifted, coaling in the air like a snake. She was naked, a light film of sweat coated her olive skin. Summer had arrived in San Diego, turning the room in this July night into a personal sauna. She always slept in the nude around this time, clothing a mere annoyance in the summer night. She loved the warm air enveloping her bare skin, helping her  escape to the world of dreams. Through the curtained windows she heard the distant crashing of waves from Mission Beach, the soothing ambiance any lover of the sea would appreciate.

Eileen loved this city and the city loved her.

The bathroom door opened, flooding the room with light. Mark returned, dressed only in boxers.

“Didn’t know you smoked,” he said flipping the light off. His flesh jiggled slightly with each step he took. He said he frequented the gym three days a week, and the strength showed in his heavy arms and high stamina. Eileen suspected his appetite betrayed his training regime.

“Need it,” Eileen said taking another drag of tobacco. “Makes the moment perfect.”

“It might, but it kills ya in the end.”

“We all die. Just enjoy everything, even the stuff that harms us.”

“There’s something that I enjoy that’s harmful.” Mark leaned over and kissed Eileen’s lips, taste of nicotine graced his tongue. He lingered on her, his mouth never leaving hers. Eileen dropped the cigarette in the ashtray on the nightstand.

“I just got my boxer’s back on,” Mark whispered.

“You tired?”

Mark’s eyes narrowed and smirked. “Tired? Nah, I just got my second wind.”

His second wind was a strong one. Eileen held on for the ride; her long legs wrapped around Mark’s waist, his strong arms nearly crushing her ribs. The bulky exterior belied Mark’s staying power. Eileen stayed on top, matching the rhythm of Mark’s hips. She pressed against Mark’s chest, letting his tongue invade her mouth. Her arms stretched underneath the pillow. Mark moaned louder, pressed Eileen harder causing her to scream. The moment was coming, coming.

A thunderclap smacked against the walls, silencing all noise of passion.

Smoke trailed, gunpowder lingering inside Eileen’s nostrils. The beretta nestled tightly in her hands, steadily balanced. Mark’s head dug into the pillow; pool of red spreading on the pillow. His eyes, opened, stared up at the ceiling. Blank, bereft of the spark of life. His mouth hung open, slack-jawed like he was about to ask a really ridiculous question.

“Hope you enjoyed the ride,” Eileen said sliding off of Mark. She fished a cigarette from her purse and lit up. The lingering gunpowder mixed with the tobacco into a godsend of rich sulfuric aromas. Her heart began to slow down, arousal fleeing like air from a balloon. Eileen looked at the body, the lump of flesh once known as Mark De Santa.   

A Simple Act

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“You keep looking at it any longer you might swim in it.”

Harry Morgan’s voice knocked me out of my trance, away from the dark liquid abyss I held in my hands.

“I can’t swim,” I answered, gulping down the whisky that tasted more like kerosene. I never really enjoyed the hard stuff. There were times, however, when I needed it, to get the haze and warmth quickly before I had to go to work. Harry was always there to supply, dependable Harry. He’d been doing this for ten years. Opened the joint shortly after returning from Korea in ’53. I needed cheap booze like a mosquito needed blood and Harry’s was the place. The bar was up on the hill near the waterfront, most of the regulars here came from the docks needing a little libation to rest their bodies and souls.

“Don’t look so hot today,” Harry said leaning against the bar table.

“Just living in my head,” I answered. I always told him that when he saw me looking down at my drink like some alien examining alcohol for the first time.

“What the hell you day dreaming for?”

“No reason. Just like doing it.”

“Ain’t you gonna see Lily tonight?”

Now my eyes sparkled. They always did when her name was mentioned.

“Yeah. Got something to take care of first, though.”

“Last time I saw her, maybe six months ago. You brought her here, first time a dame with class ever crossed those doors. Course both of ya were pissed drunk, but she still had class stumbling everywhere.”

Lily claims to not remember that night. Me, clear as fucking crystal. I tend to remember drunken nights better than sober ones. She and I had some dinner over on Mission street, cocktails on Filmore. Lily wanted to keep the night going and I wasn’t gonna stop her. I mentioned Harry’s and off we went. The waterfront was the one place in the city she never explored. When we entered she shook the place, knocking the normal dull mood into a cocked hat. People there that night remembered her, and it made me feel, at the time, that much better about being with her.

I stood up and put a five and four singles on the bar top. “Always generous,” Harry said. I took my hat, gave my goodbyes to him and left.

 

The night air was chilly and the damn Chrysler took forever to heat up. Keep telling myself to trade up. I drove up Fourth Street towards Crescent Avenue. Traffic was light on Tuesdays. I checked my watch, 9:20. I parked the car next to the Sherwood Hotel. The meters stopped running at this time, so free parking. I entered the hotel and planted a seat on the lobby sofa. A few guests were in the place, paying me no mind. I scanned the place, not much going on. Took a newspaper that laid next to me and thumbed through it.

Twenty minutes later I spotted him. Grey suit and hat, brown briefcase in hand and black glasses. His face looked long, I could see the bags in his eyes. Busy man tonight. He fetched his key from the desk, which was my cue to follow him. We squeezed into the elevator and rode up to the seventh floor. The whole time the man kept his eyes on the number display, ignoring me. I noticed his fingers fiddled with the handle on the case.

We got out together. I kept a distance of six paces between us. I rummaged through my pockets pretending to search for my room key. Kept up my ruse as I neared the man, who just got the door to his room opened. Saw my chance.

I shoved his back with my shoulder, sending him tumbling down. He smacked his face on the floor hard, his glasses and hat falling off. I slammed the door shut and withdrew my magnum from the holster. I aimed the heavy black steel at him. The look on his face showed he didn’t need his glasses to know what was gonna happen next.

“Who-who are you?” he said still lying on the floor.

“The briefcase. Give it to me.”

His hand reached slowly, trembling, for the case; his eyes stayed on the gun. I kept still, my hand steady on the little piss-ant in front of me. The man grabbed the briefcase and flung it at my feet.

“On your feet. Against the wall, now!”

He did as he was told. The man had his hands up, shaking with each step until his back was pressed on the wall.

“Who gave you this?” I said holding up the briefcase.

“I-I think you know.”

“You’re right, but I want to hear it from you.”

A knock came at the door. I kept my position, not flinching. “Go and open it,” I said to him. The man clinched his jaw, his breathing became heavier. Another knock at the door.

“Better answer it,” I said. I moved closer to him and grabbed his collar, the man needed a little encouragement. I moved him to the door and prodded his back with the gun. I hid behind the corner of the entranceway when the door opened.

“Frank,” said the voice. I just snickered.

“Frank, what’s wrong?” Footsteps coming towards me.

I shoved the gun in Lily’s face. She let out a gasp.

“Surprised, hon,” I said. “Missed me?”

“Why-why are you-Frank..Frank what’s happening?”

“Frank’s in the same boat as you. Take the money and run? That’s the plan, right. The money I helped get for you. For us.”

“Please- please don’t,” Lily said. “I can explain…”

Funny, I really couldn’t hear her voice anymore. Just a mouth flapping air, flapping and flapping.

There was a time when I did love her and would’ve done anything for her. That money, that was my love, all of it, for her.

I pulled the trigger. Simple as that.

 

THE END

 

Last Call For The Barkeep

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    I wiped away the liquor from my eyes, the massive tool’s insults stabbed my ears.

    “Fuckin’ pole smoker. Stick it up your ass and the fuckin’ Giants, you piece of shit.”

    Just another friendly baseball conversation.

    “I’ll toast one to the Royals for their graciousness in losing,” I said, smirking. The man lunged at me, two big hands grabbed his shoulders and pulled him down. The little asshole was being led away by his friends, a couple of stumbling idiots that didn’t want the night to lead into anymore trouble. The midget shot me the middle finger on his way out, an unoriginal way to make an exit.

    My phone vibrated in my pocket. I looked at the message and ignored it. I ignored all of them, phone calls and text. They weren’t getting anything from me that’s for goddamn sure. I grabbed a glass and poured myself a drink. Eight hours here and a drink thrown at me, I deserved a little libation for my troubles. One shot and I’ll start cleaning the place before closing.

    A woman walked in, her heels clicking on the hard wooden floor. I was tempted to say “we’re closed,” but a look at her legs and raven hair kept my lips sealed. She wore a white blouse, black coat and skirt. Lawyer, office worker, call girl? I had my hunch, but wanted to give the benefit of the doubt at this late hour. She took a seat at the bar.

    “Bit late tonight,” I said. I stole a glance at her gray eyes.

    “Yeah,” she said sighing, “just the nature of the beast.”

    “Want you want?”

    “A beer.”

    “Any particular poison?”

    “I’m not picky.” I handed her the cheapest glass of cold piss water, some Korean brand called Hite. When I hear cheap this is want I give.

    “What you do that’s got you running around this late?” I asked. Those gray eyes were sharp and cold like a knife.

    “Just a working girl,” she replied with a smile. I guess my hunch was on the mark.

    “Least you’re getting some fun.”

    “I wouldn’t call if fun, just good at what I do. Bit tired though, had a rough one tonight and I got one more in a bit.”

    High end kind of girl. Heard of them, never seen them in the flesh. The clothes and the body, that sharp, attractive face. What was the going rate, I wondered. There were faint dark circles around her eyes. They didn’t take away from her looks, but they showed the wear of her work.

    “How about your night?” she asked sipping her beer.

    “Not bad, except for the facial of Jack and Coke.”

    She chuckled. “Someone did that?”

    “People got to show their frustration somehow.”

    “You set him off or something?”

    “Just talked baseball. Alcohol and sports, always a good mix,” I said, smiling. She finished her beer and set the glass down. I refilled it without her asking. My phone vibrated again. I took it out of my pocket, looked at it and put on the bar.

    “Not going to answer?” the woman said.

    “Don’t want to?”

    “Some problem?”

    “Yeah, but it’s nothing. Nothing important.” The phone vibrated again.

    “Really hounding you, aren’t they?”

    “Hounding is one way of saying it.” I switched the phone off, that pulsing vibration got on my last nerves.

    “Probably shouldn’t have done that?” the woman said.

    “Fuck them.”

    “Should have talked to them now, Max.”

    I stood still, my eyes staring at her. Not a trick, no auditory miscommunication. She said my name with a sense of familiarity, like she already knew me, or knew about me.

    “How?”

    “Robert says hi, by the way.” Her hand reached into her purse. “He was going to give you one last chance to pay up, but I guess by that tough talk of yours that’s not going to happen.” The barrel of the gun stared right at me, that single hole housing the metal that was going to tear my flesh apart.

    “Sorry, Max. Harry said this was your last call.”

    She got that right.