Front Nine

“Then”, he said, after striking his ball cleanly and watching it disappear over the top of the crest before them, “She said I was an alcoholic…and mean.”

Peter gave no immediate indication that he had heard. He approached his ball with a seven iron, comfortable that he could get to the green. “But you are”, he said casually measuring with an easy practice swing.

“Yeah but it wasn’t a problem until…” Evan paused to allow Peter to hit.

“Fuck!” He topped the ball and it skated up to the top-almost got over-then rolled back a foot, then settled.

“It wasn’t a problem”, Evan went on, “Until….”

“She quit drinking.” Peter finished the sentence for him. “I know. You’ve said.”

That was the bitch about golfing with your internist. There were no secrets.  “Go ahead, hit again.”

Peter walked to the top and looked over scanning for Evan’s ball. “Where are you?”

“I’m betting ninety yards down-ten o’clock…”

Peter squinted down the fairway and, satisfied, stepped to his ball. He looked comfortable on the hill, one long leg bent on the uphill side-the other straight. One practice swing then a clean stroke and with the clear CLACK of a well hit shot the ball flew up and out of sight.

“One twenty”, Evan said turning abruptly toward the cart. “You got me by thirty but you’ll never make up that stroke.” Peter grinned as he got in and they whirred silently down the cart path.

Peter reached into his bag and pulled out two cigars handing one to Evan. He admired it in spite of himself-it was a favorite but he wouldn’t buy them. No matter how much money he had, spending thirty bucks on a cigar was stupid especially when his old man happily smoked himself to death on generic cigarettes. He took the offered cutter and sliced the end, then lit up. It was a Wednesday morning and they were not pressured. There was time to enjoy a smoke. Even a thirty dollar smoke.

“There was the time you told me you didn’t fear cancer because you were married to her”, Peter said picking up a thread of conversation that should have died.

“I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Many times”, He said exhaling a plume skyward.

Evan puffed deeply and considered the lighted end of the Cuban. He flicked the ashes from the red glow gently and blew on it, suddenly swallowed by the thought of jamming the fiery tip into someone’s eye. Reflexes would win out and undoubtedly the eyelid would close and there would only be a burned eyelid and the requisite screaming.

But what if he were quick enough to get the smoldering tip into the eye proper-would it sizzle like water hitting hot grease and fall into itself? Or would it pop like an egg, oozing down the face and dripping from the cigar like yolk from a burnt toast tip?

Peter stepped out of the cart and picked through his five thousand dollars-worth of clubs. Ridiculous clubs-he wasn’t a good enough golfer to be outfitted this way. Evan came out with eight clubs in an old bag he’d had since college. That’s probably one of the things she liked about him-he was flashy. She’d come to like flashy it seemed.

“I imagine you’re going with your wedge for this one, right?” Peter asked from behind him.

Just don’t pick today to tell me you’re fucking her, Evan thought darkly. Not today.

Peter chose his club and walked brightly to his ball eyeing the flag on the green. He didn’t really notice that Evan hadn’t answered as he was distracted by a sumac leaf. It was a beige sumac leaf shaped birth mark that Evan’s wife, Janie, had right along the inside of her ass cheeks. It was hardly visible until she opened to him-her favorite sex position was face and knees. He ran his thumb over it as he rode her, imagining the skin felt rougher there. It didn’t though; the inside of her crevasse was as soft and luscious as the rest of her.

“How about double or nothing on the next hole?” he called back over his shoulder without really looking.

“Sure. Why not?” Evan answered. He was up fourteen hundred over the first seven and wasn’t giving anything back. He watched Peter take that lazy practice swing of his and smoked.

“…A Failure to Communicate”

She turned away from the window to light the cigarette she’d kept in a plastic bag hidden in an old purse with a wooden match from the candle drawer. In the utter darkness of the house the yellow flame burst brightly until she sucked deeply and shook it out.

“Fuck!” she whispered when she saw the red glowing dot of the tip reflecting back from the glass. Could he see it? She palmed the butt next to her thigh and squinted trying to regain her night vision. There was nothing. More correctly, she could see nothing. But he was out there.

Beyond the lawn and the rhododendrons, across the property line and beyond the subtle rises that she knew to be remains of Civil War trenches that existed undisturbed in these woods for 150 years. “If you didn’t know they were there, you might not know they were there”, said the locals. Over the old stone foundation of a house gone before she was born was an oak tree. It was probably there when the old house was built and stood powerfully if charred by a lightning strike on V-E Day-or so said nosy old always-in-your-business Millicent Fenwick at the library.

“It’s a four by eight sheet of three quarter inch exterior plywood”, he had intoned when she asked him if it would hold him. Those numbers meant nothing to her, she wasn’t a builder but neither was he. Still, he said “It’s a four by eight sheet of three quarter inch exterior plywood” in such a way that she guessed she should be impressed. He had taken this sheet of plywood and somehow wedged it between the three large main branches of that old oak about ten feet off the ground and “stabilized it with three two by four struts screwed right into the trunk.” She stared at him and he repeated it; more than a few times. Could just have well been speaking Mandarin-she didn’t know or care what a fucking strut was.

“Hear your husband’s building a tree stand back off the old Warner place”, Mrs. Fenwick had said, taking the cards out of the back pockets of the books she was checking out. “My husband Elmo, God rest him, used to hunt those woods. Got more than deer back there, you ask me.”

Her eyes adjusted and she could see beyond the yard into the black of the woods. She even imagined that she could see the top branches of the oak drawn against the silvery starlit night. She hadn’t minded when he moved from their bedroom to the spare room. That was a lie-it bothered her-but it had happened gradually. One night a week, then two, always a perfectly acceptable reason: he had to get up early, his back was a little off, he “felt a good snore coming on…” Then it had become semi-permanent.

Getting used to that wasn’t easy but at least she could still hear him breathing and rolling around and, at three a.m. precisely, getting up and walking to the bathroom. Sometimes he would veer into what he had begun to call “her” room and slip into “her” bed so that they could get into some of their nighttime business but that wasn’t happening anymore.

Because now he had taken to sleeping in a fucking tree.

“Home again home again, jiggety-jig”

 

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Once the train rolled past the mill across the river the ground flattened and the hill backed off step by step until there was room for the town to wedge itself between its natural boundaries. He peeked through the slitted door of boxcar and saw Rohall’s body shop which was still the first building in town but he couldn’t swear it was still a body shop.

Then a few houses that looked abandoned then the fire house with someone, too far away to make out who, lounging in a chair by the open door. The track bent then, bellying toward the river and away from the football field, robbing him of the close-up view but opening the vista of the grimy little houses sprawling between two bridges and up to the hillside.

He watched the ties clicking quickly past and ventured to stick his head out. There was no one working on the tracks that he could see-no trucks, no equipment-but he’d have to wait for the switching yard to be sure. He had played there as a boy-and later-but now it had fallen into disuse-storing ties and timbers instead of old boxcars to play in.

Nearing the yard and its crossing the train slowed enough to make exiting, if not easy, at least possible. He squatted and stretched watching and waiting for the flattest spot with the least ballast which made the footing uncertain. He was entering the yard now, overrun with tangles of thistle, sedge, sumac trees and at least one very dead deer.

Quickly, while somewhat hidden by the brush, he slid the door enough to sit with his legs hanging then pushed off. With barely a stumble, he was walking beside the train instead of riding in it as he had for 300 miles. His boxcar outpaced him and slipped away. He carried no bundle, no bag, nothing that could mark him as homeless, a vagrant or hobo. Everything he owned he wore or left behind.

The creosote smell of the new ties gave him the same odd feeling it always did. Took him back to his first time; jaws clenched, bent grimacing over a stack of ties, the spring drizzle dripping from his hair. That was just down the tracks from here. If there was another man in the world who was aroused by the smell of creosote he didn’t want to meet him.

Every fucked-up path had a fucked-up beginning and once you hit the crooked way, there was no getting off it. Like riding your bike into a street car track-you were stuck where it would take you. It was always that way no matter what anyone said. Once your wires were crossed, they were crossed and singed into a new direction.

The ten foot fence was new-running beside the track for as far as he could see. He might have to walk all the way to the crossing which would be chancy but where there was a fence there would be holes, loose spots and passages for townies to cut across to the river. There was too much beer to be drunk, weed to be smoked and girls to be fucked on the riverbank to be deterred by a mere cyclone fence.

He ran his fingers along it as he walked remembering what it had felt like, as a kid, to be able to scale something like this. Up like a spider, leg over, drop down. That was a while ago. He stopped. There it was. The bottom two wires connecting the fence to a pole had been cut; the loose grid unnoticeable unless you knew it was there. He squatted, pushed at the bottom and the wire lattice lifted like a curtain.

Just like that he was back in town. And no one was going to be happy to see him.

“There’s someone here…”

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(Continued from Back to the Hollow)

“Looks like you found me”, she said.

“I think you knew where I was the moment I stepped off my porch.”

“You think I followed you?”

“No-I think you led me here…”

Bent and exposed over the log as he was, he was talking to the leaves and dirt between his hands. Lifting his head high enough to see over his shoulder wasn’t in the cards. He looked for her feet and found them behind him.

“Led you here?” she laughed a young girl’s laugh. “I’ve done everything I could to chase you away. To caution you away…” the log moved as she sat on it facing away from him…”but here you keep winding up.” She slapped him lightly on this upturned rump for emphasis. “What are we going to do with you?”

He felt a presence larger that the girl beside him but he scoured the upside down woods behind himself and could see nothing. But he registered that he usually didn’t see her either.

“What’s your name”, he asked on impulse.

“Tabitha”, she answered easily as if waiting for the query.

“Take me back with you.”

“Back? Where?”

“Where you live. Into the other woods. Through the keyhole.”

“Hah! There is no keyhole anymore.”

“Of course there is, you just moved it is all-or hid it. There’s always a way in.”

She went silent for a moment and he felt her fingers drumming on his butt as she mulled. She shifted into him slightly-he could feel a warmth against his hip.

“Daniel, Daniel….After we whipped you I was sure you wouldn’t be back. I branded you-left my mark” he felt her fingertip touch the tiny handprint on his cheek, “You came back. We came to your house, to whip you and actually do more…” She poked this time at his tight anus which twitched “and you came back….Makes us wonder if you’re coming back for more…”

“It’s not that I’m looking for more of that…”

“Mr. No again.” She slapped him harder on his ass. He yelped in surprise more than pain.  “You’re denying what you want even while chasing it.”

“No. I want something different. This life out here is shot for me. I’ve lived out here for close to thirty years and it’s been no bargain, let me tell you.”

“I bet. You’ve already lived in the dark almost a decade longer than I did…”

“I’ve had enough of it.”

“Everything you’ve gotten before you’ll get more of back there-you realize that.” As if for emphasis she dragged her finger across his asshole again and down between his legs. “That won’t be all, you understand, but there will be that…”

“What do I have to do?” he asked, undeterred.

“Accept it. Accept yourself. Back here you have to say what you mean. What you want, you say. Get it? Back here you have to be who you are.”

They sat in silence her hand resting on the small of his back where he folded over.

“Are you going to whip me now?” he asked.

“I never whipped you…well maybe a few strokes. You wiggled so sweetly…”

“Are you going to fuck me? “

“What would I fuck you with Mr. No? Huh? You doubt that I’m a girl through and through.”

“No.”

“You can get up you know.”

“What?”

“Nothing’s holding you. They’ve all gone off.”

He pushed off the ground and sure enough lifted himself off of the log. Hearing for the first time birds and a soft breeze whispering through the branches he pushed off the log and stood to stretch.

“Now look at this,” Tabitha said from her seat before him. He didn’t need to look; his hard-on stood straight out as if seeking the girl’s face. She took it in hand and pulled him close.

“There is a lot I can give you back here Daniel…as long as you ask for it.”

He asked for nothing right now, just let his head loll back as she gently touched her tongue to the head of his cock…

“You won’t be over quick this time, I hope…”

It had been almost four years since a woman had taken him like this. Even had he remembered it clearly it wouldn’t matter. This was different. Her mouth was beyond warm. Beyond soft. It was melting marshmallow falling off a campfire stick and wrapping itself around him.

He held her head gently and pulled her into him pushing himself deeper into her mouth. Moaning quietly he felt a growing weakness in his legs.

Veronica Palmer had run ahead of her boyfriend. He was a gym athlete-great on the treadmill but the contours of running, or even walking, trails left him in the dust. He had stopped in the clearing below where she had taken off up the hill. He was about to follow when he heard-then saw-her running back down.

“Let’s go!” she said grabbing him by the arm as she passed.

“What? Why?”

“There’s someone here.”

“So?”

“A guy. He’s…masturbating.”

“You sure?”

“Am I….?” She pulled at his arm again. “He’s standing bare-ass, pants at his ankles pulling on his dick. Is that masturbating?”

“Shit. You want me to go say something to him?”

He had finally begun to yield to her pulling when a sound of clicking filled the air. Quietly at first but louder as it seemed to get closer. “Keep moving”, she said. It sounded like sticks or switches clattering together but there was no breeze-nothing was moving.

“Come on”, she hissed as he slowed to listen-to try to get a handle on the noise. Cicadas? As the sound seemed to blanket over them she felt something tingle deep inside of her. As if a seam was rubbing her down there. “Come oooon”, she pulled him by the arm and was just breaking into a jog when-

“Ouch!” She jumped and grabbed the left cheek of her ass.

“What?”

“I got stung…or something. Come on!”

He watched her run in panic for a moment then felt a searing burn across his own ass. He yelped and jumped grabbing his behind.

“Bees!” he yelled, for what else could it have been? “Bees!”

She was faster than he but he did his best to catch up. He hated the fucking woods.

 

Back to the Hollow

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(Continued from “Venus and Mars Are Alright Tonight…”)

He had been a decent tracker as a boy. Could follow a wounded deer across both hollows and up all the creeks if need be. Wouldn’t even need to be wounded. The old men counted on him for this service as their eyesight went and they got more generally decrepit. It wasn’t hard for someone who knew the signs-who could tell when a leaf was standing on edge because something had trod along its stem and lifted it, rather than just spun that way onto the earth. Or when an old acorn had been kicked on top of a newly fallen leaf. That kind of tracking he could manage.

This kind, following someone that seemed to have no weight that seemed to float along on a cushion of air was something different. Any sign that he saw on the ground was wishful thinking. He let his eyes wander up into the scarlet red branches of the pin oaks for all the good then were doing on the ground. He started to get the feeling that the trail wouldn’t lead him anywhere. Which didn’t matter. He wasn’t following at all. He was being directed. Pulled.

Truth though, for what he was doing, he didn’t need tracking or trails. He knew where he was heading. He cut off the main trail early and crossed a patch that would have been impassable two months before. The winnowing of fall had begun in earnest and new paths appeared where there had been thick brush.

Not far along he noticed the silence that roared in and flooded the valley pushing in on his eardrums like water at the bottom of a deep pool. His breathing slowed and nothing moved but for a single tiny leaf at the top of a stripped maple twitching singularly in a disquieting way. He was about to step over a fallen tree when he felt…something in front of him blocking his way. He had a sense of her-but couldn’t feel anything until his lips pressed against his teeth. He opened his mouth and accepted the unseen kiss.

“I knew you would taste sweet”, she said spectrally coming together slowly before him.

“You could have tried it last night”.

“It wasn’t my place or time…”

Maybe this wasn’t either, because she slipped in and out of focus and substance. She seemed there, then she dissipated and he could see the woods through her, then she was gone-having shifted out of the way. He felt a push between his shoulder blades, gentle at first, then stronger-a pressure that pushed him down toward the log as his belt was loosened. He put his hands out to stop himself or grab at his pants but they were useless-pulled away from him as he was lowered firmly over the fallen tree.

He lay over the log breathing deeply and relaxing as best he could focusing on the blanket of leaves between his hands on the ground. He was conscious of the cool sunshine bathing his exposed ass and dripping between his cheeks and flowing over his balls. He wasn’t going to fight. He would be whipped, he might be fucked, but he wasn’t going to fight it.

“Where are you headed Daniel?”

“How do you know my name?”

She didn’t even acknowledge his question. “Where are you going back here?”

“I was looking for you…”

“Looks like you found me.”

 

“Venus and Mars Are Alright Tonight…”

(Continued from A Halloween Tail…)

He drifted off to the twinkling array of stars splashed across the moonless night above the ridge. The heavy November comforter made for a pleasant weight pressing him gently down into sleepy submission. Tomorrow he would definitely look for his old star chart to see if those three in a row were Orion’s belt or just a dipper handle. Tomorrow. He’d forget of course…it…really…didn’t…matter…as he drifted into dreamless sleep.

When he next cracked open one eye the room was still dark. The stars had scattered as Venus, this month’s morning beacon, had broken above the tree line. She gazed down upon him indifferently; offering neither warmth nor consolation, just a herald of night turning into eventual morning. But still, he found the company somehow comforting in its implacable permanence.

He had almost let his eyelid slide shut when he knew-didn’t feel, but knew-he wasn’t alone in the room. It wasn’t a sound, it wasn’t a smell; it was just that feeling that alerts a solitary person when someone enters his orbit.

He opened his other eye and lifted his head scanning the room until he saw her sitting on the rickety old wooden chair against the far wall away from the windows. She wasn’t moving and-as far as he could see-not breathing. Say what you will about Venus, but she doesn’t throw much light and in that corner of the room the shadows were ground ink.

“Good Morning, Mr. No”, she said, her voice both raspy and young-like a child with a cold. “Because it is morning, after all. The sun just doesn’t know it yet.” There was a general tittering around the bed and the rustling of what sounded like dead leaves on the hardwood though there were no leaves in his room. He cut his eyes to the sounds but saw nothing.

The ever creaky old chair made no sound as she rose and approached the foot of the bed. She appeared small and petite in the gloaming with bright yellow hair this time-as much as he could see of course-because on top of her head was his hat-which he hadn’t seen since that day at the ruins.

“Do you still wear my brand, Mr. No?” she asked. The rustling around his bed swelled and he could almost feel a breeze, or more correctly, many small breezes swirling from all directions.

“Brand?” he asked. Or thought. He wasn’t sure he had spoken. “What brand?”

The tittering got louder as if he were being laughed at and the breezes coalesced into caresses then touches then finally grabs that he couldn’t resist. He struggled against unseen hands pulling and pressing until, with a wrench and a yank, he was flipped onto his stomach. The cool air of the unheated bedroom prickled at his bare skin. The tittering laughter rose again.

He felt the bed shift as she crawled up onto it. “There it is…” she said as he felt her finger trace the outline of the tiny handprint on his ass. “This binds you to me, Mr. No. You realize that don’t you? You wear my mark.”

“Look. I…What do you want?” this time he knew he was talking. He just wasn’t sure what he was saying. He couldn’t move beyond a wriggle. Forces that he could not see pulled his legs apart. She laughed and the bed shifted again.

“No-don’t”, he cried fearing another whipping.

She moved behind him-closing between his legs until he felt her presence on the insides of his thighs.

“No whipping for you tonight, Mr. No”, she said as if reading his mind.

He felt her tiny, cold hands spread his cheeks and her body lean closer.

“No! Don’t do that…Please don’t do that…” he cried.

Her hand slipped between his legs and gripped his hardening cock. “See? Again you say ‘NO’ but this says something else.”

Something touched his asshole and his body jolted fully awake. His wail was cut short by another unseen piece of fabric jammed into his mouth. Was she wearing that scarf again? he wondered-then could only grunt as something pressed-hard, cold and large-against his anus. He cried out soundlessly feeling himself opening wide as he was slowly penetrated. He yelped helplessly as the forces holding him ratcheted tighter and heavier.

He awoke with a start, his trip-hammering heart pounding in his ears. Pink clouds were scudding across the perfect blue sky but he couldn’t see them with his face in the pillows as he vigorously humped his mattress to the screeching disapproval of the old box springs. Coming to consciousness, he quickly rolled onto his side to stop the action and looked down at his engorged cock waving like a mast on a stormy sea.

He put the palm of his hand on the thick head as if he would tamp it down as a child might a jack-in-the-box. Nope, that wasn’t helping and by the pulsing feel of the thing he had caught it not a moment too soon. Remembering, he reached tentatively back to feel his backside-then gently, between his cheeks. Nope. Nothing. What a fucking dream! He sat up carefully. His hard-on, ignored, began to collapse in on itself like a pocket telescope.

He stood and shivered then looked around for his clothes. Then he saw it and froze but not from the cold. His hat was hanging on the back of the chair. He picked it up and caught a whiff of leaves and woods and-for a moment- something sickeningly sweet and rotten. Like old fruit or meat left in the sun. Regardless, he put it onto his head and without adjustment, it fit perfectly.

There, naked but for his hat, he looked out the window at the path that left the yard and wound east where it would eventually meet up with the trail that led to the ruins-then up into the hollow. It’s a walk he would be taking later today, you better bet.

The Weight

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It was everybody’s bad luck that Danny had started drinking at noon that day. His regular shift was 11 a.m. to 6:00. He would open for the oldsters who needed a shot and a beer between Mass and Sunday dinner then manage his regulars through two football games, turning it over to Nick for the evening and late night. Nick was away this weekend, though, so the day was his. Clean through till 2:00.

They called Benny Pace, Hats, even though he had only one-a tortured fedora that was as sweat-stained as his rolled up trousers were piss-stained. A yellowed white shirt completed his motley ensemble; a shabby connection in his mind to when he was a snappy dresser.

His sons, Elmer and Frank inherited his gambling territory but it wasn’t much anymore. They ran poker machines and illegal pinball always scrambling one step ahead of the law. They carried the air of two “connected guys” but weren’t really. Big fish in a very small pond-but it was their pond.

Two guys at the bar that night had caught sight of the roll of cash Benny was holding. The regulars were used to it-always picked up bills that he’d let flutter to the floor and put them back in front of him. “Did you see that old guy’s wad?” one of them had asked him. Danny didn’t know him-short and wiry. Dark-with a pinched face. “He was lucky at the track yesterday. When Benny hits, everyone hits.” Danny chuckled and tapped his knuckles on the bar in front of the two signaling that their next drink was on the house.

Had he been a little less drunk he might have caught the gist of the conversation. He might have caught their eyes as they were casing the old man and felt what was happening. But he didn’t. The next morning, when he heard about old Benny being beaten and robbed he knew who did it and also knew that nobody could ever know how he knew. This place that he’d inherited from his uncle was a safe place. People came in here to be protected from “out there”. Danny had let the outside in.

But today, in the light of day, drinking coffee instead of Canadian Club he was not thinking about making something right. Some things can’t be made right. Some things just have to be worn.

If old Benny ever got out of the hospital-was ever back in here drinking wine from the jug that nobody else touched-whistling at the girls and babbling in his ridiculous way he would always have to look at him and know that the shit that he got plunged into was on him.

When sunlight slashed through the bar he knew even before squinting at their silhouettes that it was Elmer and Frank. Elmer was Danny’s age, short and round. Frank, older and smaller, did all the talking.

“Sorry about your Dad. How’s he doing?”

“Looks like he’ll make it. Fucked him up pretty good though.”

“Damn shame…” said Danny.

“They were in here? They guys did this?”

“There was more than one?” Danny asked.

“Looks like two. Cops got one. The other…” he shrugged.

“There was a lot of people in here last night Frank. Don’t know…I probably saw them. Hell, I probably served them. I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t do nothin’.”

“Still….”

“No, that’s the motherfucker gonna be sorry. They won’t hold him till the old man can ID him, and he can’t see now so….”

“Shit…”

“He’s getting out this afternoon. We know where he lives. He’ll wished he stayed in jail.”

Danny rubbed at the faux woodgrain on the bar. And rubbed. His eyes were somewhere in the middle distance. And rubbed. Just as Elmer gave his brother his “what-the-fuck?” face, Danny spoke.

“Don’t do nothing. It will be too obvious.”

“What?”

“It will be obvious.”

The Pace brothers looked at one another, then back to Danny. Elmer stuck out his hand. “You know we’re not going to forget this.” Which is why he was doing it. He wouldn’t forget it either.

“I just wish there was something I coulda done.”

“These animals. There’s nothing you could do.”

“Go someplace tonight. Be seen and don’t worry about it.”

Danny had taken out the street light next to the apartments where the guy was staying. Just a few blocks up-not far. Hell, if he was standing up on the roof right now, Danny could see the house he grew up in. This was his alley, his bar and the street above, his street. Deep truth be known, he didn’t even like Benny or his sons-two entitled fucks who never worked a day. But this wasn’t about them at all. Not at this point.

He skulked behind the dumpster and pulled the bandana up to his eyes when the scuffling tread came up the asphalt. He recognized him even in the shadows. Stupid bastard didn’t know enough to stay away.

He gripped the bat tightly and strode up behind. The guy never knew what hit him. Danny tried to be surgical-no need to go overboard. Kidneys to bend him backward-stomach so he’d fold. The most obvious joints and bones next-bust the knee cap, ankle, stomp the hand and teeth for good measure. Left him writhing and moaning. Slipped between two buildings and out to the main street. The bat down the sewer. Done and done.

The next morning he was reading the paper when Kevin Bannon, his most regular of regulars came in for his first beer to wash down his first aspirins.

“You hear about that guy? The one robbed old Benny?”

“No. What?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”

Somebody put a beatin’ on him. Ruptured his spleen or his kidney…something. Bled out. Right up the alley there.”

“Benny’s sons maybe? Elmer and Frank?”

“Naw, they were at the casino all night playing blackjack and winning like fucks. Everybody saw them.”

A single droplet of sweat trailed from Danny’s collar, down his spine and spread at his belt line. “Well. Fuck him”, he said. “They should give whoever did it a medal.”

“Absolutely!” Kevin agreed.

Danny popped his knuckles on the bar. Beer was on him.