Do Unto Others
A short story from the forthcoming collection — Restless Souls: 3 Dark Fables
“Get the hell outa here!” A boot sailed across the room, bouncing off the wall which the scraggly tabby cat dodged hastily. “Bloody hell. Man can’t even grab a few winks without you wailing for something.” Jeremy ran a grimy hand through his greasy, sleep-do hair and staggered over to the mirror to squint at his reflection in the foggy glass.
“Jesus. Jeremy, how could it possibly get any better than this?” Scratching under his arm, he reached for the baggy dungarees hanging over the chair and pulled them over his bony legs, yanked on the socks from last night, and cursed when he realized he’d have to chase his boot over to its resting place against the wall. A few handsful of water from the stained sink, a hasty straight-back comb, and then he threw a stained, threadbare shirt over the thin, stooped shoulders.
The yellowed, buzzing fridge grudgingly offered green bread, a bag of potatoes, and an apple with one brown spot. Teeth sank into the apple while eyes swept over his kingdom. A sagging mattress and box spring sans frame, one floor lamp with a crooked shade, a dresser with one drawer missing, and three books: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, and a King James version of the Holy Bible. The last was a nuisance. He hadn’t read a page of it, but it had been a gift from Mum, and every time his hand had poised over the dumpster out back, a vision of her pitiful face during his last visit to her hospital room came to mind. So it stayed and gathered dust. Even had a couple nibbles out of one corner from a scuttling tenant who lived in that hole behind the fridge.
He yanked open the top drawer of the dresser. A wallet, two watches, a purse, and best of all, an iPod he’d managed to snatch from some brat at the mall. The kid had sounded like an air-raid siren as he pelted away, and he had been so scared he’d not stopped running for three blocks. Damn near killed him, but it would be worth it. Ernie would pay good money for this baby – ohhhh yeah. Going to hold that one for awhile, though. Save it for when he needed some smack real bad. The wallet held a MasterCard and 15 bucks. Not much, and the MasterCard was useless, but he’d eat today. Use the MC and get your mug on a camera…can’t have that. Needed to get a fix, though, so what’s in the purse? Yeaaaaah. A whopping 37 bucks grinned back at him, might as well be saying ‘shoot that stuff in, baby’.
“Come to papa, my lovelies,” he said as he began stuffing the bills into the front pocket of his trousers. Then he thought better of it, removed the ID from the wallet, and loaded that up instead. As he was sliding on a watch, something about it yanked him back. Jesus! He’d scored a Rolex. A genuine, honest to God Rolly. He’d almost decided not to fleece the pudgy guy on 45th, but it had been a slow night, and one stinking purse wasn’t gonna pay the rent. So, he’d stuck his .22 in the guy’s ribs and told him to give everything over or he’d be decorating the sidewalk with his supper. The guy was shakin’ so bad he could barely get his wallet out. Damned slick. Not one of them had the sack to live like Jeremy did, but they got all the breaks. So now he had a Rolly too – and that would pay the rent.
He pulled the door closed behind him, ducked into the common bathroom down the hall and took a quick whiz, stomping a roach or two in pure joy.
Shuffling down the sidewalk, well-dressed folks kinda circling him warily, some turning their noses up, others just looking the other way. Better that way – easier to snatch stuff or pick it out of loose pockets. Freakin’ snobs. So comfy cozy in their little worlds. He ducked into a dark door, a sign declaring “Tri-County Pawn and Gold” hanging crooked over it. Ernie was in the back, coming out when he heard the jing-a-ling of the bell.
“Again? Hell, you were just here. I can’t keep buying your junk, Jeremy. None of it sells, and I had to throw some of it out. I’m in business to make money, not support your damned habits.”
“Calm down, my man. Got a nice watch here for ya. A gen-u-ine Rolex, yeaaaaaah. Whacha think of this baby?”
Warily taking the timepiece, Ernie eyeballed it with a frown. “Where’d you get this?”
“I inherited it.”
“Sure you did. Some cop comes in here looking for it, I’m up the creek and my doors get closed. Not interested.”
“What the hell you mean? That’s a Rolex. First you gripe ’cause I bring in junk, I tote in a Rolex, and you bitch at me some more. What’s your deal?”
“I’ll tell you what my deal is, you lame-brain. You snatch someone’s Timex, they shrug and go to Wal-Mart. You yank someone’s Rolly and they start lookin’. Guess where they start?”
“So keep it under the counter for awhile until you’re sure no one is looking. Ernie, you can make a load on this thing.”
“I can end up in the can, too.”
“Fuck, you know what? I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
“Door’s that way.”
Emerging back out on the street, he spotted a phone booth and started checking the listings for pawn shops. On the second page: John’s Pawn and Jewelry – we give a Fair price for your merchandise. Specializing in fine jewelry and blah blah fucking blah. Ripping the page out, Jeremy checked out the address. Twelve blocks. Crap. Well, time to start hoofin’ it. Cab would cost more than he had.
The sign wasn’t any of the neon stuff every other shyster on the street used to suck someone in. It was wood and stained and beautiful. He kinda slid inside because it was almost like he shouldn’t be here, it was so spotless and shiny. Those other holes – the ones with the neon – everyone expected you to be a little ragged. That was life on the street. Here was different – here was class.
He sidled up to the counter, and immediately a guy came over, white shirt, silk tie and tasseled loafers striding oh so confidant. “May I help you, sir?”
Okay. Time to bring out the big guns. “Yes, I believe you may,” he started in a perfect Cornish accent, “I have here a watch that I inherited from my father, and it’s really of no use to me. I wonder if you might be interested.”
Guy looked a little stunned at that one, and Jeremy smiled to himself. Betcha didn’t think a street dog could talk right up there with ya, didja slick? He handed the Rolly over the counter and watched as even more disbelief registered on the guy’s face. Glancing up doubtfully, the slick frowned for a second and went to examining the piece. Looking up again now. “Would you excuse me for a moment, sir?”
The slick disappeared behind a door, and a few moments later, another even bigger slick came out. Tall, razor-cut hair, three-piece, and a tie that could buy 50 Big Macs. “Good morning, sir. How may we be of assistance?”
“Good morning. As I told your man there, I inherited this watch, and I’d like to sell it. Are you interested?”
“Well, it’s a fine Rolex, indeed, but not one of the more expensive lines. It’s an Air King, and it has a few small scratches and such. Do you mind if I take off the back?”
“Not at all.”
The king slick had the back off in seconds, “See, this serial number inside tells me this watch is a bit old. Rolex stopped doing this in 1970. In fact…let me see…this Arabic number is…69. Yes, this watch was manufactured in 1969. May I ask how much you had in mind?”
“I think one thousand dollars would suffice.”
Nodding his head slowly now, the slick’s eyes got hard as a sly look came over his smoothly shaven face. Leaning over the counter, he waggled one finger to draw Jeremy close. “Look. Let’s get this straight, and no mistake. You’re a street hood and your name is Jeremy, a.k.a. ‘The Limey’. You think I do business in this piss hole without knowing every rat that scurries around out there? I’m just surprised you came in here. A little out of your league, aren’t you? So, let’s see – what’s the deal– ahhhhh, I know. The thugs that normally take your merchandise are scared to handle a Rolex – they figure someone will come looking, right? I’ll bet this little pretty is still a bit warm from the heat of the real owner’s skin. I run a reputable place here, but I’ll tell you what. It’s rough out there, and I’ll give you a break. Two hundred bucks.”
Done with the accent now, fuck me. “Two hundred? Are you serious? That thing probably lists for 2 grand!”
“List price is hardly a concern. What concerns me is what I can sell it for. What concerns you is how much you can sell it for. Out there,” he nodded toward the door, “you can get 50 bucks, max. In here you can get 200. Your choice.”
He was staring hard now, taking in the asshole’s cocky stance, the smirky half grin, and then deciding. Deciding more than one thing. “Alright, you know what? You’re right. Couple hundred will do just fine. Write it up. By the way, do you have a business card? I may have more…merchandise…come my way, time to time.”
Pulling a card from his jacket pocket, the head stiff gestured his lackey over and told him the price in a low voice. Glancing once more over his shoulder at Jeremy, he nodded before disappearing back into his office to count his damned money.
Hitting the sidewalk again, Jeremy stood a minute to clear his head a bit before letting the anger take him. Just another fucking slick, thought he was better than everyone else. Better than the street, better than his lackey, hell better than his wife, probably. Pulling the card out, he looked at the name. John Fair. You fuckin’ kidding me? John Fair? He looked back at the sign: “a Fair price”. Real slick you are. Okay, Fair.
Sliding down the street, a phone booth came into view. Ducking in, riffling the pages to “F”, and oh by damn, there he was. John Fair, even listed himself as a pawnbroker and yeaaaah, he lived out in Emerald Woods, out in Oz, where the grass is always green and the shit don’t stink. Okay, Mr. Fair, you and me, big man. Too right. Another page joined the first one in his pocket.
The long walk back was time enough to figure out what came first, second, third.
First was a quick Reuben and some potato salad to chase the hungries away, and second was knocking on old Harold’s door, his fat face showing surprise at the 50 Jeremy shoved in his face, back rent and a little extra to keep his fat ass away from the door for awhile.
That left him with 192 – not a lot, but one helluva lot more than a couple hours ago. Time for a little investing for the future. The second-hand store was right around the block from his place, and it had stuff that fit the bill and didn’t hurt the wallet too bad. Half hour later he was back in his place with three shirts, three pairs of trousers and some shoes that were only worn a little. Even a slightly used sport jacket. One seventy now. Pulling the old .22 out, he inspected it with a grim eye. Not too impressive. The only way it worked was when it was stuck in someone’s ribs. Try to wave it around and scare the piss outa somebody and they’d probably laugh at you.
So now we got to number four. Sliding on a change from the clothes on the bed, he was out the door. A couple doors down Mango was sitting on a stoop, sucking on a fat one and eying the ladies hurrying by so they didn’t have to hear the jeers and whistles. “Hey Mango, my man. You seen Benny?”
Mango knew where everyone was all the time. Damnedest thing. “Yah, man, he be over to Louie’s Pool. He playin’ Fat Al today for 20 dollars, and say he gonna beat him, den dat hustler Billy Bob might cut him in one some o’ his action. Whacha want wit’ Benny?”
“None of your bee’s wax. Gimme a hit.” He snatched the fat one and drew on it long and hard, letting the fragrant smoke go in and fuck with his reality. Yeaaaah, day’s shapin’ up real fine.
Benny had just finished mopping up Louie’s floor with Fat Al’s ego when Jeremy came in. “Hey Limey, you’re just in time. Fat boy here has an alligator mouth and a mosquito ass, and he’s now into me for a hundred. Come on, I’ll buy you a beer.” They bellied up to the bar and accepted the two cold drafts that slid across it.
“So I hear Billy Bob might cut you in, now.”
“Yeah, that’s what he said. I don’t know, though. BB’s a pretty straight-up guy, but I kinda like running my own show. So, how’s things with you? Goin’ okay?”
“Can’t complain. Scored nice last night, so I gotta ask ya two things. Got any smack, and where can I get a piece?”
“First one is easy – got some in my pocket. Second one might be easy, might not. What kinda piece you have in mind?”
“Somethin’ big and shiny. Somethin’ that’ll make a slick shit his pants when I wave it around.”
Benny looked at him over the rim of the half-empty glass. “What you got goin’, man? Anything I’d be interested in?”
“Nah. Not your bag. But I plan on comin’ out of it smellin’ nice – real nice.”
“Sounds good. Just don’t get your ass shot off. I enjoy havin’ a beer with you now and then. All right, so I have three you might be interested in. A Smith and Wesson .38, a Colt .357, and a Ruger 9mm.”
“How much for the .357?”
“A hundred? Bloody hell, did it belong to Dillinger?”
“Hey, nice pieces are hard to come by. Tell you what – 85 for you, and 5 for enough rounds to fill it.”
“Jesus, Benny, you’re killin’ me. Okay, so where is it?”
“Back at my place. I’ll be there about six. Come by and we’ll smoke one and do business.”
“Fair enough. Lemme have six hits and I’ll see you later.
He checked the load on the .357 for the seventh time. It was a beautiful piece, all silver and big and deadly. The barrel had a hole in the end a rat could crawl in, and six bright pieces of death in the cylinder, ready to maim and kill on command. Lenny had thrown in a shoulder holster for another five, and Jeremy even had time to have a hit of smack before leaving Lenny’s place. Now it was yeaaaah time.
Eight blocks down, Little John had his cab stand, and he was sitting on the bench reading a paper, waiting for a fare. “Hey, LJ…what’s shakin’?”
“What’s up, Limey…man, what you all duded up for?”
Jeremy, all ‘duded up’ in chinos and the sport jacket, freshly showered and shaved, slid next to LJ on the bench.
“Listen, I need to get to Emerald Heights. What’re you going to hit me for that?”
“Long way, man. That’s a 50 dollar round trip.”
“How about 25 and 3 horses?”
“Works for me.”
Twenty minutes later, the splendor of Emerald Heights came into view. The street’s grime gave way to a few shopping centers and restaurants, then came the quiet, oak-lined streets of paradise. Houses big enough to hold damned near Jeremy’s whole building sprawled on perfectly manicured lawns that the owners were too busy – and too rich – to touch. That was a job for the sweaty mug who pushed a mower and swung a weed whacker for a living. “Alright, LJ my man, right here will do just fine. Can you do a fare or two around here, and pick me up in two hours?”
“Yeah, that can happen. What in hell are you doing here, man?”
“I paid you to bring me here, not be my partner. Be here at 9:15.”
Jeremy swung up the street until the sign for Halloway Street came into view. Fair’s house was about 200 yards down, number 307. Three stories, decks on every story, two chimneys and a veranda wrapping around the whole 1st floor. Three-car garage tucked in the back, probably a couple Benz’s and a Beemer back in there. An elderly couple strolled by, walking their matching poodles and eying Jeremy warily. Nodding and giving them a warm greeting in his best manner, he saw them relax visibly and smile. Rich fucks…so easy for them to see what they want to see. As soon as they passed, he took up station under a street-side oak and watched the Fair place. It was a chilly evening, so not many folks were out. Perfect. Unfortunately, none of the Fair family showed themselves either, and after two hours, Jeremy had to trudge back to meet up with LJ. On the ride back, he lit up the number Benny had given him. “So, LJ, want to make a little extra this week?”
It took him about 10 minutes to convince Benny that he’d have a cool 500 weighing him down by Monday if he’d take Jeremy back to the same spot the next 4 nights. Benny was no fool, but he couldn’t resist the promise of that kind of jack – particularly when Jeremy told him he could come to the party at Jeremy’s place this weekend.
The next few nights told Jeremy a lot. John Fair had a nice piece of arm candy for a wife, probably 10 years his junior. Cute little girl too, about 12 or so, and of course they had a big yellow Labrador Retriever. What slick family would be complete without one? He drove a Caddy, she had a navy blue Beemer, and when the garage was open once, Jeremy spotted a vintage Corvette crouching inside, probably a drive-on-Sunday-and-look-at-me car. More importantly, Wednesday evening they started packing up the Caddy with suitcases and Jeremy knew Thursday night was going to be it. On the way back into town he told Benny he needed to do one more trip tomorrow night. Drop Jeremy off at midnight, and pick him up at three. No problem, said Benny – just gimme another hit of that good horse.
The next day, he made his preparations. A hardware store was two blocks over, and he bought two stout canvas sacks, a pair of bolt cutters with rubber handles, and three flashlights. He stuffed it all into an oversized satchel, along with an old stethoscope he’d stolen from his mom’s hospital, a pair of golf gloves, and an empty bleach bottle wrapped its entire length with two rolls of duct tape. At 11:30 he dressed in the black shirt and trousers he had bought for just this occasion and slipped over to the cab stand. Benny was waiting like a good trooper and never said a word about nothing. Just got in the cab and started driving. Good boy.
“Okay, listen. I’m paying you enough that you need to hang around. I don’t wanna be waiting while you finish taking somebody across town. Got me?”
“Sure man, no problemo…it’s cool.”
“Okay, then. Right here is fine. Three hours…cheers.”
The same old scene as every other night greeted him as he eased up the sidewalk. This hour, though, no one was out. Even if someone was, he’d been seen several times, spoken to a few of the slicks, and any of them would think he was just out for a late stroll.
He walked by the Fair place, saw there were two lights on, one first floor, one second, and walked on by. At the end of the street was a telephone pole with a transformer. Glancing around quickly, he dug out the bleach bottle, slid it over the .357, took quick aim, and popped a round into it. The report was a bit louder than he liked, but compared to the loud ‘pop’ and sparks from the transformer, it wasn’t much. Hurrying past two houses, he ducked back between them before anyone came outside, then made his way through the back yards to the rear of the king slick’s place. He could hear the murmurs of all the slicks outside now, wondering what in hell had happened in paradise.
The area around the back door was pitch black, so he dug out the flash with the filtered lens and turned the murky light on. Thirty seconds with the lock picks and he was in. The alarm control pad was right next to the door, useless now as a shit-flavored lollipop. Moving slowly now, taking his time, he slid the gray beam of light back and forth as he entered the interior. Living room, dining room, all fancy and expensive, but everything too big to carry. He could look in the kitchen, but maybe it would be better to go upstairs and check for jewelry and such. Then he could work his way d…
“Help you find something?”
He whirled and pulled the .357 in one motion, bringing it to bear in the general direction of the voice. “Who is that?”
“I believe I should be the one asking that question.”
“I’m the one with the gun.”
“True…but with everyone outside, will you use it?”
Glancing involuntarily at the front windows, he lowered the piece slightly and threw the dim light around a bit. Its paltry beam fell across a young guy sprawled in an overstuffed chair next to the wet bar. He was in some kind of uniform, his leg was over one chair arm, and his expression said he found the situation amusing.
Kneeling quickly, Jeremy slid the taped jug over the end of the .357 and pointed it at the young slick, “I’ll ask once more, and once more only. Who are you?”
Looking at the piece for a second, the slick started making a funny noise in his nose, and as Jeremy frowned in puzzlement, he snorted and started laughing. First a cackle or two, then harder, and his face got red as he pointed at the gun with the jug and started beating the arm of the chair in pure glee. Jeremy looked down at the gun and started to grin. It did look rather ridiculous with the bottle stuck on the end of it like a bandaged bucket. Couldn’t help it, he started to chuckle. The whole affair seemed silly now, having a proper conversation with some slick, while the old geezers run around outside like chickens in a pen. He started too, pointing at the young slick laughing and that made the guy go even harder. Soon he was bent double, both had cherry faces with tears and Jeremy had to close his eyes it was coming so hard. When they opened, the slick was dead in front of him, and before he could swing the gun around, a grip hard as steel had his wrist. The young guy had a grin pasted on his face still, and as he gave one final chuckle, slapped Jeremy hard as he could across the face. His head swung all the way to the side, and as he shook it and ogled the stars, the young guy let go of the wrist and eased over to the fireplace. By the time Jeremy’s eyes had cleared, he was piling wood in, and as Jeremy watched, he put a flame to the tinder and it jumped to life.
“Are you daft? I’ll blow your bloody head off!”
Shaking the match dead, the slick tossed it into the fire. “Ah, thought so…a Brit. What part of the Isles do you hail from?”
“What in bloody hell…I’m not here to converse!”
“I know what you’re here for…I also know you won’t shoot me.”
“Hell I won’t!”
“It’s not in your eyes. Killers have a look about them. It’s not mean or nasty or loud. It’s cold…dead…makes you shiver to see. That ain’t you.”
“How would you know?”
A bit of a faraway look now…blank…sad…“Trust me, I have reason to know.”
Looking down at his watch, only two hours until Benny would be waiting.
The slick said, “I have a question.”
“I don’t give two fucks about your questions.”
“Why this house? It’s right in the middle of the neighborhood, so I know there are less conspicuous targets. What made you pick this one?”
He couldn’t help it. Every sense, every voice told him to just go up the stairs and get it done, but the anger, the hatred took over. “You want to know why? I’ll tell you why, you bloody buffoon, because John Fair is a bloody asshole, that’s why. He parades around in that fancy shop of his and acts like flowers come out his arse when he farts. It was a Rolly and he gives me two hundred. So, now I figure I’ll even the score.”
Nodding a bit now, the slick said, “John can be a jerk, that’s certain. But I still can’t let you loot the place.”
“Oh, you can’t? Fancy that. Now I have a question. Who in hell are you? I’ve been watching this shack for days, and didn’t see you once.”
“I don’t get out much.”
“And what is that get-up you have on? Practicing for Halloween, are we?”
“Not exactly. I’m in the Army.”
“Then how is it you don’t get out much?”
“I see…well, have it your way. Now, if you’d please stand, I have to be moving on upstairs, and you’ll be coming with me.”
The young guy just shrugged and waved his hand lazily. “Have it your way.”
Framed paintings went all the way up the staircase, and they didn’t look like repro’s either. If there was room, one or two of them might just go in a sack. Divan in the hallway and sconces on the walls, now dark and useless.
“Where’s the master bedroom?”
“At the end of the hall on the right.”
It was fuckin’ massive. Four-poster bed that four blokes could lie in, and dark rich wood all around. More costly looking artwork too. Now – what’s behind them? He pulled a second flashlight from the bag, set it on a nightstand and turned it on, the murky light casting dancing shadows. Starting with the painting nearest the door, he slid it aside. Nothing. Next one, the same…and the same on the third. The fourth one was the jackpot. A dial and a lever embedded in a steel face sat in a recess behind the landscape scene. Yeaaaah…here we go.
“You’re going to have a bit of trouble getting that open.”
“You think so? Watch then, and learn.”
Pulling the stethoscope out, he put the stems in his ears and began to turn the dial, listening for the tumblers clunking into place. Ever so slowly and yeaaaah, clunk number one. Reversing now, easy does it, go easy and there was number two, the final one should be right about there and… three, lever turning smoothly, and holy God in heaven, piles and piles of bills spreading before him like cherries on a tree.
Turning to look over his shoulder, he took a moment to give the young smartass a little sneer, then bent to pull out a canvas bag and gather up the loot…
The safe door was closed.
Not only closed, but as he discovered when he yanked and pulled, once again locked. Looking back at the slick again, the little shit just gave him a small half-grin and settled on the bed, legs crossed and hands behind him, propping him up. Jeremy looked at the safe a bit. Maybe he bumped it when he bent over. Well, he had the combo now, so 3, 23, 45 and bam we go. Door opening and…something grabbed his wrist. But there was nothing there. Well, maybe so, but something had got your bloody wrist. Pulling with all his might, it was no use. Slowly the door went closed again, his wrist hurting like hell as whatever it was twisted his hand to lock the lever back in place.
He looked at the safe for a long time. He started reaching up again and a hard something slapped his hand away. Looked around he saw nothing there. Glanced back at the slick and he hadn’t moved, but he wasn’t grinning any more either. Sweat was broken out all over now, and he had a funny light feeling in his chest. Only other time he had felt that was when a bloke in that hole-in-the-wall pisshole of a bar had pulled a gun on him for dancing with his lady. Had it right to his face and finger had been on the bloody trigger too. Only thing that had pulled him away was the promise of sex in the taxi from his freakin’ wag of a girl.
Now he looked at the young slick. “I’ll just bet you’re dying to have me ask you what just happened.”
“I’d rather you just left and save yourself a lot of heartache.”
Fuck this. Time to stop playin’ around. The .357 was once again pointed at the young pup. “Look – I’ve seen shit that your fledgling ass couldn’t bloody comprehend, so if you think some fuckin’ parlor trick is going to scare me off …” And another something slapped him silly on the back of his head. He stumbled forward a step and almost dropped the piece. Whirling around, he rubbed his head and pointed the cannon in all directions. Turning slowly, he directed the barrel straight at the slick’s chest. “That’s about enough. I don’t know how you’re doin’ it, but if it happens again, you’re goin’ down. I’ll worry about the noise later.”
The next thing he was aware of was being sprawled on the floor, his jaw hurting like hell, and being unaware how any of it happened. As he stood shakily, he saw the piece was now lying on the bed. The slick hadn’t moved, but he was grinning again. Without taking his eyes off Jeremy, he said, “George. Come out now. You’ve had enough fun.” A hulking brute appeared from the hall, dressed in a tux of all bloody things. He was at least 65, but he had shoulders like an ox. “This is my little brother George. He’s rather protective of me.”
Jeremy rubbed his jaw and looked from one to the other. Then…what? “Your younger brother? But he’s got to be in his sixties and you’re…what kind of silly fuckin’ game are you havin’ here?” And he pulled his hole card. The .22 wasn’t worth much, but it served as a backup. It came out of his boot smoothly and was pointing in their general direction in a wink. “Now, enough of this. You’re right, I’m no killer, but I’m not coming away from here empty handed either. Stand away, or I’ll have done with you and empty this place at my leisure.”
The brute was apparently deaf, because he started forward. “Last warning!” But he didn’t stop. Aiming quickly, Jeremy put one into the brute’s chest – and he grinned and kept coming. Ignoring the fear about noise, he sent another one flying and it had no more effect. The hulking guy was to him now, snatched the .22 and held it in both hands while his face turned red for a minute. Then he handed it back, its barrel bent at an angle. Jeremy gawked at it and then looked up slowly – to see knuckles coming. He crashed against the wall this time, a universe of stars dancing and cavorting across the sky of his vision.
When he awoke, the room was empty. The .357 was still lying on the bed so he stuck it in the holster and considered. He had shot the brute twice, he knew it, and in the chest, to boot. He had read of blokes who could take a shot or two and just keep coming; maybe that’s what had happened here. The guy was strong as a bull, so maybe they were off tending to his wounds, or headed to the hospital.
He threw one of the paintings into a sack and – wait a bloody second. Taking it back out and staring. It was the young slick, dressed in the same military uniform. That wouldn’t be worth jack, but it had probably got some kind of sentiment attached, so yeaaaah, he decided to twist it into good old John a little more. Glancing around the room, his eyes landed on something. The old brutester was hangin’ there too…all fancied up in that bloody tux. Twice the hurt, then. He put that one in the bag too, then slid over and plucked a third painting off.
Crossing quick as a cat to the safe, he cranked the dial once, twice, thrice and yanked it open – and a tuxedo-covered arm shot out from the hole, a beefy hand closed on his shirt, and he was slammed violently into the safe door, his forehead bursting with the impact and blood flowing into his eyes. Stunned, he fell to the floor and sat, numbly trying to make sense of it.
Staggering to his feet, he lurched toward the door. Just as he reached the threshold, the door swung shut with incredible force and smashed into his back, throwing him into the far wall and fracturing his left elbow. Wailing with pain, he’d suddenly had enough.
“Who — what are you?”
The young slick’s voice came out of the air around him then. “I tried to tell you. You had fair warning. Now George is mad. Nothing I can do for you.”
Whipping out the pistol, he brandished it about, side to side, trying to find the speaker. “Fair? Fair deal, fair warning – I’ll show you fair! Think you’re funny? Think I’m not a killer? Show yourself, you bloody coward!”
He shuffled slowly to the stairs, peering into the shadows below, and felt the hands on the small of his back for a moment before he was thrust forward and started tumbling…one step, five, eight…his right leg snapped and he screamed…head went under and feet over, another four and his left elbow shattered…as he slid to a stop he could feel only a pulsing burning pain envelope his body in a sheath of agony. No thoughts of loot now, no revenge, no anger…must get out. Now. Heaving himself up, left arm cradled against his side, dragging his leg, he headed for the front door. Worry about what to tell the slicks outside later…he tripped and fell down the stairs and hurt himself…yes that’s it…watching it for John and didn’t know his way around and fell…they’d believe that…maybe even take him to the hospital.
Emerging into the front hallway, the young slick was standing at the front door. Jeremy hadn’t noticed a gun belt before, but it was there now, and the holster was full. Balancing on one leg, he whipped the .357 out and pointed it at him. “Now, I just want to go. I don’t know what you are, or what’s going on, but just let me pass and you’ll never see me again.”
Glancing at the piece then back up, the slick grinned that same bloody grin. “You apparently don’t get it.”
“Look, keep the bloody money and the house. I just want to…” and there was George again, just appeared beside the young one he was smiling too and he was reaching for the slick’s gun hey HEY he was pulling it out as Jeremy leveled and fired once twice it didn’t even phase him as he swung around and pointed the .45 army issue Colt and pulled the trigger twice Jeremy falling falling now…how…why…he didn’t even see the guy flinch…it was like…he was he was oh God it hurts Mum I…I…so cold where what ohhhh so cold I…wasn’t supposed to…
“Any idea who it is?”
“Yes, I’ve seen him around. His name is Jeremy something. He’s called ‘The Limey’ on the street. He’s a two-bit hustler and thief, from what I’ve heard.”
“You know of any reason he’d break into your house?”
“He was in my shop a few days ago, selling an old beat up Rolex. I bought it, but I couldn’t give him very much, given its condition. He apparently took offense and decided to get even.”
Looking back at the corpse now, the detective shook his head slowly. “Can’t figure it. He just keeled over here in the middle of the hall.”
“I heard that he’s a heroin addict – perhaps he overdosed.”
“Maybe. My guys tell me he died about 2 a.m. Friday morning, so he’s been dead about 32 hours. The coroner will be able to figure it out.” Dragging a notebook out, the cop made a note, and then turned to trot up the stairs and walk over to the master bedroom
“I can’t quite work out what went on here. There are two bullet holes in the wall over there, small caliber. I’d say they came from the .22 on the floor, except the gun’s barrel is twisted up. Damned thing couldn’t fire anything. We won’t even be able to do a ballistics test on it. The safe is hanging open, apparently he used a stethoscope to crack it – then left it hanging open with money in it. Then there are the two holes next to the front door which look like they came from his .357. He has a broken arm and broken leg. The safe door is bloody, evidently from that wound on his forehead, and the wall over there has a dent in it like someone ran into it. If I was to guess, I’d say he was interrupted burgling your house and got the hell beat out of him. And you say you and your family just got home and found him like that?”
“Yes sir. We’ve been in Boston on vacation this week, and just got home two hours ago. The power was still out, and it gave me quite a start to find the body like this.”
“Do you have anyone that can corroborate your story?”
“I have to be at work early tomorrow, so to save time I filled my car up on the way into town. We stopped at the Jiffy Mart on the north edge of town. They will have me on camera at the front counter.”
“Alright, I’ll check it out. It’s also possible there were two of them and they had some kind of disagreement. No honor among thieves. But that doesn’t explain why everything was left behind.”
“If I may say so, he acted pretty deranged when he was in my store. You might just have a case of delirium of some kind, brought on by the heroin.”
“Yeah, that may be. Odd. Apparently he shot out the transformer at the end of the block to disable your alarm system. You might want to consider getting some kind of battery backup for your alarm.”
“I’ll do that – thanks.”
The cop looked at the two sacks and the overnight bag. Pulling the paintings out, he examined the young man in uniform. “Is this family?”
“Yes. That’s John Fair the first, my grandfather. He was a sergeant in the army during World War II. He died in the battle of Herrlisheim in 1945. And this,” he plucked another painting from the sack, “is George, his younger brother. He worshiped John, according to family history, and pined for years after his brother’s death. He never married, and lived here until his death in 1979. He was quite the socialite and held many galas here. One evening, he was hosting a large party for a friend’s birthday, excused himself, went upstairs and blew his brains out in the master bedroom.”
“I see…sorry to hear that.”
“Such is life. Anyway, I inherited the house and we moved in. A lot of the family history is tragic, but it’s still comforting to be around all of them.”
“I’m sure. Boys, we’re done here. Get the body out of here, so the family can relax. Here’s my card, and I’ll be in touch about what we find. I can see myself out.”
“Thank you, detective. Have a good night.” He carried the paintings into the bedroom and re-hung each one. When he was done, he turned and there was Grandpa John and Great Uncle George, arm in arm and grinning to beat hell. The living Fair nodded, the dead ones waved jauntily, and John Fair went out of the room, closing the door behind him with a chuckle.
Do Unto Others is part of the forthcoming Thomas Rydder min-collection, Restless Souls: 3 Dark Fables, which contains a novelette and a novella in addition to this short story.Image credits (licensed from Shutterstock): gunman (c) Micha Klootwijk ; biker (c) Andrey Armyagov