Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 148 - Eric Beetner

OUT OF RETIREMENT - ERIC BEETNER

“It’s been a while, you know. I’m not so sure I even have the stuff for it anymore.”

“Daddy, if you don’t want to do it, I’ll do it myself. But it needs to be done.”

“No, no. No little girl of mine is going to get behind the barrel of a gun. Not while I’m still kicking. I’m just out of practice is all.”

Elliot turned the gun over in his palm again, looking down at it like it was a mystery object that fell from the sky. The gun that used to earn his living. He hadn’t seen it in over twenty years, shut away in the attic with the cobwebs of his old life.

“Daddy, I’m not asking you to do this.”

Megan hated seeing her Father hold a gun again, to open that box to his past. He gave it up the year she was born but she knew. Over the years, men had come and tried to lure him out of retirement and back into the killing business. He resisted every time. He fought to defend his new family from the ugliness of that life. They offered money, they made threats. If the negotiations would turn violent, Elliot always came out on top. Nothing would draw him back into that world, to surround his new daughter, his jewel, with violence.

Now she was the one who put the gun back in his hand.

He lifted his eyes from the gun and looked into hers in a way that reminded her of her wedding day. That cursed clouded-over afternoon that marked the beginning of her nightmare, complete with a cover band and three layer cake.

“Baby girl, you don’t need to ask me. Your eyes are doing all the asking I need. The first time I saw a bruise on you, I thought about this hunk of metal. Now after what...” Elliot began to choke on the words, “...after what he did...”

Megan wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him like only a daughter can.

The announcement that she was pregnant was followed quickly by the usual justification: Once the baby is here it will bring us closer together. All the bickering and fighting, even the ones that drew blood, would end when they had a baby girl of their own to love.

Three rounds with Manny had done that dream in. Fist after fist to the gut turned Elliot’s unborn grandchild to pulp inside Megan’s womb. When she finally passed the clot of blood and torn placenta, no one even called it a baby anymore, just a hemorrhage. She had picked the name Daisy. Quite a difference.

Elliot’s heart was lead. Heavier than the gun. Black revenge pumped through its chambers, loading and reloading hate with each muscle contraction. Each valve opening fired a live round of vile murder to his brain.

Time to get back to business.

*

The gun was untraceable, even thirty years ago when it was in its prime. Elliot sat at his basement work bench, a single lamp on a swivel arm lighting the rough work surface. The familiar smells of gun oil and the microscopic shavings of metal that spun into the air with each pull of the slide brought back a thousand memories. Dark thoughts. All with the same ending. He on one end of the gun and death on the other.

This one was for no pay. It would still be the most satisfying kill of his life.

It would all disgust Martha. To know that he was at it again, to know it was their daughter who spurred him to action. She thought that box had been thrown away decades ago. It would crush her to know that he crawled up into that dark space, fetid air stale with a past no one wanted, and dug down below the Christmas decorations, beyond the trunk still filled with Grandma Esther’s rotting gowns and into the pink clouds of insulation to get the oak and redwood box that cradled his weapon for years like a vampire waiting to rise again.

Good thing she was dead six years now.

A tear came to his eye when he lifted the lid and saw the black stain of the gun resting so comfortably on the red velvet interior. Let it sleep, he thought. Let it sleep for a thousand years.

But Megan. His girl. Flesh and blood. No man did that to her. You hurt her, you hurt him. In his day, there wasn’t a man alive who would cross that line.

That day had passed.

*

Even the hair on his knuckles had gone gray. His index finger had been stiff with arthritis for years. Too much time on the trigger?

His knees creaked. His skin tore easily when he shaved and it left his chin dappled like a field of red flowers. Since Martha died, he kept a thick stubble most days.

Megan had moved back into her old room. A poster for The Breakfast Club still hung over her bed and her closet was a museum of Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls.

Elliot woke early and left the house without waking her. Better for her not to know when it was going to happen. He didn’t want her to get cold feet. She talked tough but he knew firsthand that most people got right to the edge of the cliff and then refused to leap.

He drove to the small two bedroom place he bought for the young couple with the money from Martha’s life insurance. Doubtful that Megan would want to move back in after it became the scene of not only her unborn child’s death but also her husband’s. He could unload it for a song. Making a profit wasn’t on his mind. He might consider paying someone to take it off his hands.

The box lay on the seat next to him. The inlay work was truly beautiful and the brass hinges had only tarnished a little in all those years of hiding in the attic. He couldn’t remember why he needed such a fancy box to hold destruction wrapped in red velvet. It seemed like something you would use to hold fine jewelry or priceless keepsakes, not cast-metal death.

He turned off the car but left the keys in the ignition. The lid on the box opened and he lifted the gun out. It was cold.

He knocked on the screen door and then opened it and pounded three times on the proper door behind it. No babies to wake up at this hour.

Elliot pounded five more times before hearing Chad’s half-awake grumbling from inside.

“Hold yer fucking dick, douchebag. I’m comin’!”

Stupid southern accent made him sound as dumb as he was.

The door jerked open and Chad stood shirtless, hair askew, the tattoo of Megan’s name staring at Elliot, mocking, from above Chad’s heart.

Elliot waited for Chad to speak first. He wondered if Megan had ever told him in the quiet of their marital bed of what her Dad used to do for money. Of how many men were buried anonymously in fields or weighted and thrown into rivers. How many bullets had left the very gun pointed at Chad right then.

“Hey...Dad.”

“I told you before, you don’t get to call me that.”

The screen door groaned as he pushed Chad inside. It slapped shut and Elliot kicked the door closed behind him.

“What are you doin’ with that gun?” It seemed an obvious question.

*

The tip of the barrel shook. It never used to do that, thought Elliot. He felt a surge of adrenalin he hadn’t felt in years. He thought for a moment it might overwhelm his heart and send him into cardiac arrest.

“You hurt my baby girl.” Elliot slowly advanced, driving Chad deeper into the house toward the kitchen. With Megan gone for two weeks now, a layer of beer cans and empty Hungry Man dinner tins decorated the floor.

“Megan and I worked that out. No need for you to get involved. She’s leavin’ me. Probably gonna get half of everything.”

Half of what? thought Elliot. Already he was exhausted. He barely slept the night before and now this excitement was taking a toll on his body. His joints were dull with pain, his forehead slick with sweat.

It was taking too long. Just squeeze the trigger and go. He regretted not taking the time to visit the firing range and go through at least one clip just to remind himself of the kickback and the noise. Twenty-six years since he fired a weapon. It didn’t just happen again by instinct like he thought it might.

“You killed my grandbaby.”

“Don’t you think I lie awake just sick about that? Jesus Christ, man, that was my child.” Crocodile tears formed in the corners of his sleep-swollen eyes.

“And Megan is mine.”

Elliot’s finger lit with pain as he pulled back the trigger.

Silence. Misfire. The gun had gotten too used to its coffin.

The click vanished into silence. A moment of mouth breathing from Chad and then a lunge forward. He knocked the gun from Elliot’s hand and drove a huge fist into his gut. Something inside him ruptured.

Elliot collapsed onto an empty six pack of Pabst and landed ear-down on a half-eaten salisbury steak. Then came the feet pummeling him. Bare feet at least, Chad didn’t sleep in his cowboy boots, thank God. Ribs cracked. He tasted blood in the back of his throat. Chad was shouting insults but Elliot didn’t hear anything besides a low buzz in his brain.

Until the shot. Loud and familiar. An old friend come home.

Click. Click. Click. All misfires and then another shot, louder than the first since the cloud was starting to dissipate.

Elliot rolled over on his back to see his beautiful little girl holding the former tool of his trade out at arms length in two hands, Cagney and Lacey style, a curl of smoke licking from the barrel like it was enjoying a Marlboro after a long awaited fuck.

She lowered the gun slowly. Elliot turned his head and could see under the couch, past an empty cereal box, to Chad’s body splayed on the kitchen floor, swimming in thick red.

She lifted him, carried him, cradled him. She had become a killer. The thing he never wanted for her. The thing he spent his life keeping her safe from. The thing that he knew could not be undone.

He was never more proud of her.

BIO: More about Eric's writing can be found at Eric Beetner, Author. His crime novel 'One Too Many Blows To The Head', co-written with JB Kohl, is scheduled for a tentative release date of October 1, 2009. In the meantime, check out Worth It over at Powder Burn Flash, Bleeding Out at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers and the Past Due podcast at Crimewav.com.

1 comment:

Paul Brazill said...

Fantastic, Eric. Beautifully writem and moving.