BY JEREMY RIDDLE
About the author
He couldn’t go home and he couldn’t be wandering around either. Likely the cops were out after him by now. Even if no one knew he frequented Tony Zip’s card games—and everybody did know that—he had told a room full of people what had went down tonight less than an hour-and-a-half ago. Yeah, the cops would definitely be looking for him, and he didn’t need that hassle. Might even want to pin the whole thing on him.
Some other folks might want to pin the whole thing on him too, only they wouldn’t be nice and orderly about it like the cops at all. Braden had seen a whole room full of connected mobsters cut down like old corn stalks, and some of their buddies just might get the idea that Braden, the only survivor, had something to do with it. Even if they didn’t, they would definitely want to know what went down, and they wouldn’t want to hear about guys without faces who cut up gangsters with a slingblade after being shot a few dozen times.
It was a bad spot to be in all the way around, and Braden needed a place to lay low ‘til he could figure it all out.
He just didn’t know where it was going to be.
He wasn’t thinking straight, and he knew it. It was stupid to go to Mike’s and spill the way he had, and it was even stupider to sit there and tank up before he left. He wasn’t drunk—he didn’t feel drunk, anyway—but a lot of bourbon couldn’t help matters in this situation even a little and it could hurt ‘em a lot. So here he was, a 370-pound man with a half-buzz on trying to be inconspicuous, and he’s wandering the street here and there like a chicken with it’s head cut off.
There was another reason he wanted to hole up, too.
He wanted to hide.
Whatever he tried to tell himself, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to be picked up and grilled by the cops or that there might be carloads of pissed off Mafioso gunning for his scalp. He wanted to hide because he was afraid something else might be out after him, might be having second thoughts about letting him live. Something that couldn’t be reasoned with or bargained with or even stopped with a bullet.
Braden was 46 years old, and suddenly afraid of the dark. As he walked the streets, he saw a threat in every shadow, a spectre around every corner. It was always a menacing figure he couldn’t quite make out. It didn’t have a face—he knew; he had seen—but it would be grinning at him just the same. Grinning and waiting for the right moment, when he finally got too close…
He hadn’t told the guys at Mike’s everything. He didn’t tell them what the thing with the reaper did to Tony Zip’s head. He didn’t tell them how it had stopped to look him over before putting away the blade. And he didn’t tell them about the laugh.
The laugh was the worst, a loud, mocking laugh coming from everywhere at once just like when it had said Tony Zip’s name. It left Braden standing in the mess with the laugh to keep him company.
Braden didn’t want to believe any of this, but he saw it happen with his own eyes. He saw the gaping wounds in the thing’s back when it turned to go. This wasn’t some wise-ass pro mechanic with a flak jacket and a prayer; there were chunks blown out. And where the hell had that voice came from? That was no mask it was wearing, either; it was skin. Bone-white skin. Braden thought he had seen a monster or a devil—maybe THE devil. Then Mike came up with that bit about the blade being a reaper. Braden hadn’t even thought of that. A reaper.
He pointed at Tony and said his name before he killed him.
Braden felt a chill run down his spine.
Death Himself. The Reaper. Shit.
He wished he could clear his head. He was scaring himself just thinking about all this, and the more time he spent on it the less he would be spending on trying to figure out just what the hell he was going to do. But it wasn't exactly an easy thing to put out of mind. Especially when he was wandering around alone in the dark with nowhere to go at all.
Everybody knew his regular haunts. He could check in at some flea-bag motel, but those would be the first places anyone would check after they found out he wasn’t anywhere he usually was anymore. And there weren’t that many of them to check. No good. Maybe a friend’s place. Maybe not. If it wasn’t a really good friend, he wouldn’t trust them and if it was he wouldn’t want to drag them into all this. He also needed money. Most of what he had he had left at Tony Zip’s, laying in the floor or wherever else it had landed. Then he had dropped a wad at Mike’s. It wasn’t that much, but he didn’t have that much to drop. Right now, he had two dollars and change in his pocket.
This was better. It seemed hopeless, but at least he was trying to work it out instead of jumping at every shadow. Not that he was suddenly so preoccupied that he didn’t notice every shadow--he doubted he would ever be that preoccupied again—but he found that when he was mind-shopping for the shovel that could dig him out of the deep shit he could make himself not have to check out every darkened doorway or glance down every alley.
And, of course, the first one he didn’t look down was the one he should have looked down. Braden was just having one of those nights.
He didn’t see the two figures step out of the darkness to his right, didn’t smell the street stink on ‘em, and didn’t hear them approaching ‘til one of them pulled a piece and cocked the hammer. And by then it was too late.
He felt it in the small of his back before the icy electrical jolt he got from the sound had subsided. Garbage stinking air wafting over his shoulder. A titter. A voice growled, “Fork it over, fatboy.”
Braden’s heart had jumped a beat when he heard the gun cock, but at the voice he was positively euphoric. No cops, no gangsters, and, most importantly, no Reaper. Street punks, that’s all. Street punks trying to peel what looked like a ripe banana. This maybe he could deal with. Calm down. Breath a little. Stay alive.
“Out for a stroll, fellas?” This was the leather cool level-headed Braden everyone knew.
“What the fuck? Just give us the money.”
“Rear pocket, left side.” Then Braden felt his wallet being lifted. Maybe they would take it and run.
“Shit!” No such luck; they were feeling froggy and they had a gun and they had gone through his wallet right then and there.
“Two fuckin’ dollars this guys got! You’re goin’ to have to do better than that, fatboy.”
“All I’ve got.”
The other one spoke up: “Then we’re gonna’ take it out of your hide.”
“Won't make you any richer.”
Next thing he knew, he was face down on the ground seeing stars. One of them had belted the hell out of him, probably pistol-whipped him. His sight came back pretty quickly, but his head was a football after a good punt. He heard one of them say, “It’ll make me feel better about being poor, though.” Oh, well, Braden thought; now I get to take a beating. He braced himself for it.
Then he heard the laugh, and all his cool went away in a warm trickle down his leg. The Reaper’s laugh, coming from everywhere at once.
He looked up, and one of the punks was standing near his head looking around. Probably had been standing there ready to kick him. Braden was looking everywhere just like the punk, but he knew what he was looking for.
And then he saw it.
He was coming up the street very fast, wasn’t moving enough to be running but seemed to be almost floating. A big guy, all in black. Black slouch hat. White face. Coming for me, Braden thought.
This time the Reaper didn’t have his shotgun or his blade. He had two .45 longslides, one in each hand. The longslide was a ridiculously big gun; it usually looked awkward and disproportionate to whoever was holding it. But it went with the Reaper like he had been born with it, a perfect extension of his arms.
The punk at Braden’s head finally saw it and clawed at his jacket like he was going for something. His hand never found it. There was an explosion, and Braden felt something warm and sticky splatter on his head, then he heard the guy hit the ground.
The other punk, the one with the gun, started firing. He had apparently been standing just to Braden’s left side. Braden turned to see him get off his last shot, then the Reaper opened up with both barrels, and Braden watched the guy’s head disappear a piece at a time. The first shot probably killed him, but the Reaper just kept pumping them in. The body danced in the air this way and that, then collapsed to the street with little more a bloody stump where the head had been a few seconds ago.
Now, Braden thought, it would be his turn. He tried to be cool and resigned about it, but he kept seeing Tony Zip’s head slung over the Reaper’s shoulder. He buried his face in the pavement and waited.
And nothing happened. His heart kept beating. He kept breathing.
He looked up, half expecting to see nothing, as though it had all been a bad dream. But it was still there. Shimmering and unreal. Standing there looking down at him and not moving at all.
Braden backed up a bit on his hands and knees, his eyes never leaving the Reaper’s blank face. What was this? He sat up on his heels. He couldn’t bring himself to speak to it; that was too much a concession to the physical reality of the creature in front of him. He didn’t know what to do.
The Reaper moved. He had been holding the pistols lowered at his sides, and he holstered them in a pair of matching shoulder rigs under each arm. He turned his head as though studying Braden. Then he kicked the dead punk’s pistol over to Braden and nodded at it, as though signalling Braden to pick it up.
Braden was frozen. Was it wanting a wild west showdown? Will it kill me if I pick up the gun? He was the only one at the card game tonight who was unarmed. Maybe it couldn’t kill an unarmed man. Otherwise…
Braden didn’t have any answers, and before he had even gone through all the questions, the Reaper nodded at the pistol again, and Braden just reached down and picked it up, too scared to do anything else. He held it stupidly in front of him, not daring to point it or even look like he was going to.
Then the Reaper turned slowly on one heel to his left and pointed down the street. The voice was hideous, icy, commanding, and, like the laugh, came from everywhere at once with no traceable point of origin. Two words: “Go, pawn.”
Braden glanced in the direction it had pointed and, when he looked back, the Reaper was gone. Vanished without a trace. Braden didn’t need to be told twice by the Reaper. He got to his feet, stashed the pistol in his waistband, and went where the Reaper had pointed. Running as fast as a fat man could.
Death Deals is copyright Jeremy Riddle. It may not be copied or used
for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews.
(Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)