This story is by Joe Arcara and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“You never shoulda stole from Ziggy, Johnny. You never shoulda done it. He got no tolerance for such things.” Johnny sat strapped to a stained wooden chair. Stained from old blood, dark and acrid. It stank like spoiled meat.
Johnny trembled, making the chair legs tap a horrid tune against the concrete floor. He shook his head side to side, hair flying, a stench of cheap mousse and fear sickening the room.
Big Randy stood above him, holding large clippers. Sam and Kato stood behind him, holding rolled bandages and tourniquets. The three had the same, solemn stare of men used to inflicting pain or death. Either or. No matter. Those tied to the chair acted the same.
“Please, Randy, you know me since I was in diapers. You know my father. You was over the house for Christmas. Please, Randy, no.”
“Don’t make me feel even worse, Johnny. I always liked you, but you know the rules. You give Ziggy what’s his. You never hold out. Them rules is the same for everyone. You, me, your father, hell, even Ziggy’s father. You skimmed.. Now you pay with body parts.”
Johnny’s tears streaked his face. His stomach jumped, emptied over his chest and groin, covering the wet stain between his legs.
The men only stared. They had seen it before. The fear, vomit and desperation. Randy let the terror play on Johnny. Let him stew in his fear. The time for chopping could wait. Ziggy told him to do it this way.
“What are you gonna do with them clippers, Randy? Please, don’t hurt me.” His tears turned to gasps, hysterics making his voice high and cracked.
Randy sighed, his stare almost sympathic, but not quite. “Ziggy said we gotta take your fingers. All ten.”
Johnny howled, sweat dripping in the dank, chilly room. The chair rocked, threatening to tip. Kato reached over and placed a plate sized hand on Johnny’s shoulder, steadying the chair, but not the sobs of terror. “I’ll do anything, Randy. Ain’t nothin’ I won’t do if you leave my fingers. Please, there’s got to be something. How do I live with no fingers?”
Randy stroked his chin, thinking it over. “There might be something, kid. Maybe, but, well, I don’t know.”
“Anything you want, Randy. Anything. You tell Ziggy I’ll do anything.”
Randy leaned close, whispered in Johnny’s ear. Words laced with menace, garlic and marinara sauce. “You ever kill anyone, kid?”
Johnny’s breath caught, his stare turning wide. “You know I never did, Randy. I ain’t no killer. You guys are the pros. I’m just a bag-man.”
“But, could you, Johnny? Kill a man? If, you know, it meant keeping your fingers and squaring things with Ziggy?”
Johnny nodded, kept nodding, his breath harsh. “I said anything. You tell me who to kill and I’ll kill him.”
“Andre. You gotta’ kill Andre.”
Johnny’s voice rose to a squeal. “Andre? You want me to kill Tommy Wolfe’s kid? How the hell am I supposed to do that? Andre’s a stone killer, and he learned at Tommy’s knee. Why don’t one of you kill him?”
Randy shook his head and smiled. Spoke like conversing with a young, stupid child. “That crew knows us. We could never get close. But you could. They would never expect you. So, you take the job, square yourself with Ziggy, or…” he wriggled the clippers in Johnnys face.
Johnny nodded hard, face tear streaked, voice cracking. “Can I borrow a gun?”
The three smiled down at him like benevolent uncles, like ex jocks just informed by a favorite nephew he’d decided to try out for the High School football team. “We’ll give you a gun, a plan and an escape route. You’re gonna do fine, kid. Just fine.”
Three nights later, Johnny crouched in the alley of The Barrow Seafood House. Inside, eating, were members of the Wolfe Pack, known as violent psychopaths with no compassion and less forgiveness. Andre was in there. Johnnie stared at the back door. It may well have been the gates of hell.
He stroked the semi automatic tucked in his waistband, then wiped the sweat from his face with a dirty paper towel rescued from the garbage filled dumpster near the back door. Its rotting fish and spoiled meat drenched his senses, but did not compare to the wet fear under his arms. One deep breath and he forced his shaking legs to walk to the door. His trembling hand reached the handle. He pulled.
The door opened, just as Randy said it would, to the warm smell of cooking food, muted conversation and strong wine. He stood at the end of a long, L shaped corridor. Johnny spied the men’s room, the sign, “GENTS” in red letters on the door. He slipped towards it and realized his mistake as the alley door snicked closed behind him.
“Shit!” Randy had told him to brace the door with the narrow piece of wood he gave him. He’d forgotten, and he stared at the number lock pad on the side of the door. Now what? He’d just lost his escape route. It had cost Ziggy plenty to bribe someone to unlock that door, and the shim, designed to make the door look locked, sat useless in his jacket pocket.
Steps tapping down the L part of the corridor. Gasping, Johnny pushed open the bathroom door and locked himself in a stall across from the urinals. He was panting, sweating, nauseous. He forced deep breaths into his starved lungs.
Johnny closed his eyes, too frightened to peer through the crack in the stall door at who entered the bathroom and stood at the urinal. Forcing his eyes open, he gasped. His back to him, long, dark hair draping over broad shoulders stood the unmistakable form of Andre Wolfe, he of the violent temper, notorious weak bladder and heir to the Wolfe clan.
Johnny listened to the stream of piss hitting the urinal, along with Andre’s grunt of relief and pleasure. He was alone. Johnny touched the cold steel in his waistband, sure his thumping heart would give him away.
Like a dream, perhaps a nightmare, he pulled the gun, released the safety and opened the stall door. At the same instant, Andre zipped his pants and turned, spying Johnny, shaking, holding the gun.
Andre’s eyes widened and fast, so fast his hand became a blur, he reached for his shoulder holster. Johnny pulled the trigger.
The sound was more than loud. It deafened him. He watched Andre slump to the floor, hand on his stomach, his white shirt growing red, like an angry eye staring at Johnny. Andre was speaking, but the ringing clanged in Johnnys ears. His only sense was smell. Cordite and leaking stomach acid.
Andre reached again for his holster. Johnny closed his eyes and fired the gun. He opened them, thinking he had missed, expecting death, but the small, black hole between Andre’s vacant eyes told a different story. With dumb luck his ally, he had killed a killer.
He backed away, shocked, shaking, looking at a man dead by his hand. Panic and self preservation seeped into his consciousness. He needed to escape, but the back door, thanks to his inexperience and stupidity, was locked. For a precious moment he froze, unsure, too terrified to move. In a panic he came to himself, ran to open the bathroom door and was knocked to the ground by half a dozen men holding guns.
“Tell Tommy we got the bastard. Andre’s dead,” one man shouted. Johnny was pulled to his feet. His gun, still dangling from his hand, yanked away.
“Tommy’s coming. Hold him.”
“We got him. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Johnny, trembled, sagged towards the floor. Strong arms held him. The door opened, and the men stepped aside. Tommy entered the room.
Tommy was almost fifty, but her beauty still took a man’s breath away. Elegantly dressed, her expensive perfume arrived before she entered the room. She stared at Johnny and frowned. “You were supposed to escape, you stupid boy.” Johnny’s shock stared back at her.
“Yes, he was my son, and I loved him, but he planned to kill me so he could be Boss. A mother’s weakness, I couldn’t kill my boy. So, I asked Ziggy to do it. Not with his regular guys. Bad appearances. Might have caused a war. No, someone unknown. You. And, you were supposed to escape.
“Now, I have to punish you. Andre’s crew is dead, but people will talk if I let you walk out of here.”
“Please Ms. Wolfe, I’m only a…”
“A stupid boy who didn’t follow the plan.” She turned to one of her men. “Cut off his hand.”
Johnny screamed, hysterical, pleading for mercy. “No! God no! Not my hand!”
She turned towards him, frowned and shook her head. “You’re right. People would talk. Think I’m weak.” She again turned to her men. “Cut off both his hands.”