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In the back of his mind, Martin always knew it would come to blows. In this business, sometimes there was no alternative. Sitting in the glow of a streetlamp, smoking cheap cigarettes down to the filter, Martin considered his options.

Across the street Ashley slept comfortably on a Tempur-Pedic, wrapped in a creamy down comforter with a glass of water resting on the nightstand beside her. On the floor was a small refrigerator containing a collection of expensive chilled wine. Two empty bottles stood on the wooden floor of Ashley’s bedroom, reflecting the steady light of the street coming through the window.

Martin flicked the remains of his last cigarette into a nearby gutter and walked across the street to the door of the large, suburban house where Ashley slept. Unsurprisingly, the door was unlocked, and as he turned the handle, Martin felt a creeping sense of uneasiness that he had recently come to associate with Ashley. The house reeked of pine-sol and alcohol, and the television in the den hummed steadily, flashing muted images of a soccer match onto the framed portrait of an old woman which hung on the wall behind a leather easy chair. The interior of the house oozed wealth, subtly flashing affluence at every turn. Martin passed the bar, deeply stocked with Russian Vodka and Spiced Rum, and started up the stairs.

As he walked he ran the situation through his mind, wondering where he had lost control. He thought of The Gent, and his ridiculous sidekick Flip, and how they had hooked him into this job. He thought of his mother, wondering if her failing health had caused him to make poor business choices. He thought of his age, considering the possibility that he was getting too old for this line of work. As he opened the door to Ashley’s bedroom, he realized what was really wrong. It was her. Despite her drinking, her soft living, and her dull, valley girl countenance, Ashley was unsettling.

She was dangerous.

As if to prove this point, Ashley sat up in bed and turned to Martin, her sharp eyes taking no time to adjust to the darkness of the room.  A small smile touched her lips and she raised her arms in a playful greeting.

“Looking for something, daddy?” She said in a slurred, husky voice. “You should have called; I would have taken the time to clean myself up.”

Martin hesitated, wondering how drunk she really was, planning his next move under her constant gaze. He stepped forward and sat on the edge of the bed, meeting her eyes with his own.

“You didn’t show up, Ash. Why didn’t you show up?”

She put on a pouty face. “Oh, come on daddy, don’t be boring. You knew I wasn’t coming when you got in that car. Don’t be mad at me, I only did what we both expected.”

She drew closer to him, pushing her face up to his so he could smell the liquor on her breath. “Besides, daddy, you weren’t gonna let me get away with it were ya.” She tilted her head. “You weren’t gonna let a dumb little blonde whore take your score away.” She put her mouth up to his. “You weren’t gonna help build my trust fund for evenings in Malibu…”

Their lips met, and the overpowering scent of stale wine and Chicken Piccata made Martin retch. He grabbed her by the throat and tossed her to the floor, wiping at his eyes which had begun to water. From the floor she started to chuckle, feeling along the edge of the bed for another wine bottle. Martin grabbed a fistful of beautiful blonde hair and lifted her back onto the bed, taking the club from beneath his coat.

“Hey, look at me.”

Her head rolled from side to side, a Cheshire grin on her face. He shook her shoulders.

“Look at me Ashley.”

She stopped rolling her head and stared at him, the grin now no more than a fierce grifter’s smile. Martin leaned in close.

“If it were my choice, Ash, I would just let this go. To me, you’re nothing more than a stupid kid who wants to play pretend with the big boys. I would be perfectly content walking away and watching from a distance as you drank your way into a coma.” He leaned back and lifted the club.

“But it’s not up to me, is it?”

The dull thwack echoed out into the hallway. Ashley slumped down into her thick sheets, bleeding dark maroon onto the cream. Martin bent down to make sure she was breathing before wrapping her in the bed sheet and throwing her over his shoulder.  As he walked out of her room he again felt that uneasiness she seemed to cause.

She had never stopped smiling.

Flip stood in the hallway outside the apartment The Gent stayed in while in town for business. He wore dark khaki chinos and a blue polo. He had his arms folded in the universal “don’t screw with me” gesture, and his thick brow was furrowed intensely. Three hours had gone by since Martin had left, and Flip was starting to get uneasy. It was at best a thirty minute drive to where Ashley was staying. With another half-hour to scope the place and then twenty to actually grab her, this put Martin a solid hour late.

Flip doubted that Ashley posed much a threat to Martin. This late, it was more than likely she was passed out drunk anyway. The only real trouble would be breaking into that castle she lived in. After that, one rap on the head, bundle her up, walk out…

So why was he taking this long?

Sure, he could have taken longer to wait outside her place, scope it out a little better. Maybe she had people over, a couple of mice out to play while the cat was away. Maybe she spotted him coming and ran off. Maybe he got pulled over. No doubt Martin could talk his way out of a traffic ticket, but things get complicated when there’s an unconscious girl in your trunk.

Flip turned and walked back into the apartment where The Gent stayed while in town on business. The Gent stood in the middle of the living room, tapping a pistol against his thigh.

“Is he back yet?” The Gent turned towards Flip with arched eyebrows, bringing the gun up to rest on his shoulder, right behind the ear.

“Still waiting, boss.”

The Gent turned back to the full length mirror in the back of the room and looked himself over, checking for any imperfections.

“How does it look Flip?”

“You’ve got some dust on your shoulder…”

“No, I mean, how does it look?”

Flip hesitated, turned towards the door.

“I don’t think we need to worry yet.”

The Gent took out his cell phone, pressed the buttons with his pointer finger in what he considered to be a businesslike manner. The man on the other end picked up after three rings, but remained silent.

“Do you have her Ramón?”

More silence, punctuated only by the grainy crackles of a bad connection.


“Si Señor, she is here.” The man on the other end was standing in a bare linoleum kitchen. In his hand was a double barrel Remington held pointed downwards by his left hip. He had a six inch switchblade in his back pocket. His voice was heavily accented. In the next room the faint mechanical beeps of medical equipment pulsed consistently. The woman in the bed was fast asleep, her gaunt face turned towards the shaded window. On a small table next to the bed there was a picture of martin.

“Thank you Ramón.” The Gent hung up the phone and stared at the screen, mulling the situation over in his mind. He turned to look at Flip, who stood in the doorway with folded, don’t screw with me arms. Then he turned back to the mirror and brushed the dust off of his shoulder.

“I don’t think we need to worry yet.”

Ashley came to slowly, being careful to remain still.  Martin was cruising down the Interstate with Pete Yorn playing on the radio, a steamy mug of coffee in the cup holder. The car was filled with smoke, and Ashley kept her head low to keep from coughing.  She had to do it quickly, and she had to do it now, before he realized she was awake.

“Morning Ash,” Martin said without looking up from the road. From the rearview mirror Martin could see Ashley sit up, a look of disappointment on her face. That look gave Martin a sense of deviant satisfaction, and it went a long way towards calming his nerves.  If she was disappointed, that meant that things weren’t going as she planned. That meant things might be going as he planned.

Unless the disappointment was an act too.

“Did you remember to pat me down, Daddy?” Ashley asked with innocent schoolgirl bashfulness.

“I did.” Martin held up the hunting knife Ashley had strapped to her leg when he knocked her out.

“You search the place?” She said, looking at him through mirror, that silken disappointment still written on her face.

“Couldn’t find anything”

Martin turned his eyes back to the road. Seconds later the soft click of a pistol’s safety catch came from behind his head. The cold gun metal on his neck made him want to shudder, but he remained still and waited for her to speak.

“You remember to check your car?” Ashley whispered. All the smoothness had left her voice, and Martin heard what he had feared and hoped for all along, the cold and calculating voice of a man hunter. In the mirror she was smiling triumphantly at him. Her eyes told him that he was finished, that this was Ashley’s victory. He returned her stare and let a smile of his own slip onto his lips.

“As a matter of fact, I did.”

Understanding flashed across Ashley’s face. She pulled the trigger.

Martin stared back at the road.

Behind him a series of cry clicks emitted from an empty gun. The disappointment returned to Ashley’s face, and this time Martin could see the life start to die from her eyes. She sat back in her seat with a look of sullen acceptance.

Martin put a hand up by his head.

“Two choices Ash. You can try and pistol whip me and take my car. You might be able to pull it off too, but most likely you’ll end up doped in my trunk, waiting for The Gent and Flip to teach you how they conduct business. Or, you can hand me your gun, and we talk.” Martin sat in silence with his hand raised, palm up. In the mirror Ashley appeared to weigh her decisions. This next move was integral. “Your play Ashley.”

Ashley handed him the gun, which he stowed in the glove compartment with two knives he had found under his passenger seat and another pistol that had been hidden in his trunk. He took a sip of coffee and offered the cup to Ashley. She waved it off.

“Earlier we had a little conversation with each other. Do you remember it?”

Ashley snorted, laid back down.

“ I realize that in the past we have not always seen eye to eye. I want to put that behind us now.” He smiled and turned off the radio.

“For a long time, I’ve been The Gent’s go to guy. And from what I understand, you do fairly well yourself. I don’t really understand why you feel the need to work, but I guess nobody’s wondering where the money comes from.

“For me, this is the only work I’ve ever been good at. I was close to being finished though. Actually, this was going to be my last job. One more score to keep up with my mother’s medical bills and make The Gent happy. Give me a clean break.”

Here he paused to sip more coffee and look at Ashley through the mirror.

“But you left me at the altar, Ash. And now I have to clean it all up.”

Ashley sat up and pushed her face over the seat, up next to Martin’s.

“So why aren’t you? Why didn’t you hit me with the needle? Why did you bother to leave me an unloaded gun? Why are we driving down this highway instead of sitting in some motel parking lot?”

“The gun was my way of showing my respect for you. I didn’t want to completely spoil your setup. You are crafty, and you understand the game pretty well .

“But I’ve been doing this for a long time Ashley. You are still sloppy”

He motioned towards the glove compartment, “There’s no room in this work for your extravagance. You knew I was coming, so you could have run off yesterday. But you wanted to cover too much ground at once.”

He picked one of the knives up and twirled it in his fingers.

“Also, if you’re going to hide weapons in someone else’s car, something simple like a garrote wire works better. I couldn’t lean my seat back without getting shot the way you rigged it up.”

Ashley looked genuinely sheepish at being told something she hadn’t thought of before.

“See, as boring as I may seem, I’m actually a lot like you. I think like you, act like you, and steal like you. We could do this dance forever. Or, we could work together for the next hour, and never see each other again.”

She was silent. He again offered her a drink of coffee, and this time she gulped it down.

“You really want to get out of it?” Ashley asked. Her face had lost its edge, and for a moment she looked remarkably like a high-schooler.

“I wanted out as soon as I started.” Martin banked right onto an exit ramp.

Five minutes later they pulled into a gravel driveway. Across the road a grey Ford F-250 was parked too close to the garage door, looking remarkably out of place.

“You were actually right before, Ashley.” Martin said with a smile. She looked up at him with wary eyes.

“I never wanted to share the score with you.”

Martin turned and told Ashley what he was planning to do.

“He jumped.”

“I don’t think we can make that…”

“He has to have jumped, he was supposed to be here five hours ago.” The Gent was livid. He paced back and forth across the beige carpet, tugging at his tie in an agitated manner. His gun now sat on the armrest of the couch, next to his wallet and his cell phone.

“Did you get him on the phone yet”

Flip dialed the number using his thumb, looking sideways out the window while he did.

“Still no answer.”

The Gent grabbed a glass of water off his coffee table and hurled it against the wall. As the water dripped down onto the carpet he stood with his fists clenched and tried to steady his breathing. Flip stood against the wall with the phone in his hands, waiting for The Gents orders.

“Call Ramón,” The Gent said finally, smoothing his hair with his right hand. “Tell him we’re moving.  Martin wants to play games, let’s make him follow our rules. “

“What about the old woman?” Flip asked, a trace of a smile on his face.

“A promise is a promise, Flip.” The Gent said calmly, picking up his wallet and cell phone. He tucked the gun into its holster underneath his suit jacket.

Flip held the phone up to his ear.


“Si.” The voice over the phone sounded alert. That was good.

“Finish it. We’ll be there in an hour.”

As Flip hopped into the black Escalade’s driver seat, The Gent took out a stick of gum and popped it in his mouth. From the glove compartment he took out the gold plated Desert Eagle he had gotten Flip as a present last year.

“We shouldn’t have kept him so long,” he said, mostly to himself. “The longer you keep somebody, the more likely they are to think they can beat the system. In this business, you always have to keep it fresh. “

“What about me boss?” Flip said. “You gonna have to get rid of me soon?”

The Gent turned the Desert Eagle to point at Flip, mimed shooting him in the head. “You Flip, you’re one in a million.”

The Gent knocked on the door again, agitation starting to edge out the battle readiness in his composure.

“Ramón!” He called. Ramón’s old Ford wasn’t in the driveway, and The Gent was starting to get nervous. Something wasn’t right.

After one more knock he tried the handle. The door opened but it caught on the door chain, letting The Gent see into the entryway of the house. Lining the walls were photographs of a young woman and her child in various different settings. Both looked very happy.

The Gent kicked through the chain, and moved inside, pulling the gun out of its holster. Flip followed him, the gold Desert Eagle now in his hands.

“Ramón!” The Gent called again. Still no answer. He hurried into the old woman’s bedroom, gun held in front of him.

The machines had been turned off. The sheets of the bed were drawn all the way up, covering the figure underneath them. Blood had seeped all the way down the sheet and formed a streaking pattern against the sky blue cotton of the bedspread. The Gent was turning to leave when Flip put his hand against The Gent’s shoulder, stopping him. Flip walked over to the bed and pulled down the sheet.

On the bed Ramón lay staring up at the ceiling with dead eyes, arms placed limply at his sides. Six inches of razor steel stuck out of his chest.

The blast of the shotgun was deafening in the small room. Where Flip’s chest had been seconds before there was now a bloody mass of flesh and brooks brother’s polyester blend. The Gent whirled and hit the floor as the second barrel flew over his head, shattering the medical equipment. Sparks flew from the broken screens as The Gent leveled his gun at Martin, who stood in the closet with the spent shotgun in his hands.

“Drop it” The Gent said, getting to his feet. “Put your hands behind your head.”

Martin did so. He kicked the shotgun over by where Flip had fallen. The Gent took another step towards him, gauging his distance. Martin stood stock still, hands held behind his head. The eyes that were locked on The Gent were calm.

“Where’s Ashley?” Asked The Gent, pushing the shotgun aside with his toe.

“Dead,” Martin said, his face impassive.

“And your Mother?”


The Gent looked down at Flip, who had stopped breathing, and now lay dead in a pile of his own blood. For a terrible moment, The Gent felt tears at the corner of his eyes. He turned back to Martin with a look of pure hate.

“Well she’s dead. And so is your little nephew. Your whole family is gone, you stupid punk. When the families hear about this, your name’s gonna sound like a death sentence. I’ve got enough on you to wipe you from the face of this earth.”

He straightened his arm and trained the gun at Martins chest.

“You think you could do what I do, Martin? You think you have this business figured out? You can’t even handle snatch and grab, man. You’re nothing but a pawn.”

Martin stared into The Gents eyes. His face was level.

“I just wanted to retire.” He said with a smile.

The bullet hit The Gent directly in the back of the head, locking his legs and sending him crashing to the floor across Flip’s shredded body. In the doorway an old woman sat in a wheelchair, a pistol sitting across her lap. The IV bag swayed gently back and forth as the woman clicked the safety on her gun back on.

Martin crossed the room and kissed the old woman on the cheek. “Let’s go Mom,” he said. “Car’s outside.”

“What about Johnny, we have to make sure he’s safe,” Wheezed the woman. Her eyes flashed back to where the three criminals lay dead. “Was he serious about the families?” Those eyes burned inside her face, looking almost comical against the frail body that housed them.

“Don’t worry Mom, it’s taken care of.” Martin said gently. “Let’s get you to a hospital.”

The old woman leaned up and kissed Martin back. “Thank you sweetie. I’m very proud of you. I love you so much.”

“I love you too, mom”

Martin turned the chair and wheeled it outside.

It was starting to get light outside when Ashley pulled up to the apartment in the black Ford truck. She killed the engine and walked over to the door marked with a large brass seven. The key stuck in the lock for half a second, and then slid counter-clockwise to open the door. Ashley walked across the living room floor to the bedroom in the back. Underneath the bed was a small safe. From her pocket Ashley pulled out a handful of bills and a small diamond ring. The ring belong to Angelica Ambrose, whose husband was currently serving five to ten years on a racketeering charge.

One hour later, Ashley walked out of the bedroom. The ring was gone, but she had many more bills in her pocket. On the kitchen table sat a bottle of whiskey. Before she left, Ashley opened it and fixed herself a drink.

She shut the door and locked it.

As she got back in the driver’s seat of the Ford, she took her phone out and sent a two word text message to an unlisted number. She drove away to the sound of Pete Yorn on the radio.


Michael Braun is a college student


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