Fire in the Hole

"When you decide to be something, you can be it. That's what they don't tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"

Frank Costello, The Departed

Fire in the Hole by Beau Johnson

I push the steel harder into the back of Terrance’s shaved head.

“C’mon,” he says. “You and me, Rider, we’ve similar goals.” The scum was right as well as wrong. Whereas I saw him and his kind as a means to an end, he only wanted atop the pile. “We’re business men, you and I. Way I see it, the info I’m givin’ you, I should be gettin’ a free pass.”

“Anne-Marie Shields. Did she get a pass?”

Terrance was smart, played dumb, but I already knew what I needed to know. Put a bullet in his crotch to make him understand. I unloaded the remaining five just to let off steam.

“And this piece of shit, this Terrance, he said Toomey and his men are coming in night after next?”

Batista continued to look out over Culver, the city he’d sworn to protect. Duty and honor are the things that make up Detective John Batista; what made up most of the men he stood in line with. That he now found himself in my world was something we rarely discussed. It was a given, what I did. And yet he hadn't tried to turn me in.

In him I see myself, a time when belief had been the norm; when this world did not in fact kick at its dead. Detective Batista and I, we have our demons, sure, each the thing that drives us on. But to be fair, that is where the similarities end. No matter how much he might think otherwise.

Toomey, though… Toomey was the here and now. And Toomey was trouble. Aggressive. Ruthless. Feral. He was high end too, lacking the moral compass most considered a conscience. Word on the street was he kept a portable wood chipper, and that the man was unafraid to take his time if given the chance.

Bangers wouldn’t use him, slingers either, which left me two choices, both of which I could work with. Russians or Italians. Little more re-con and Bobby Carmine popped into view.

“Head-shit looking to take you out, I see.” Batista runs a hand through his greying hair, goes down about his goatee and finishes with a sigh. Politics notwithstanding, I swear the man’s as textbook as they come.

“What it looks like, yeah.”

“And just what is it you want from me?” I looked to the city’s lights behind him, looked down into the valley that had claimed so many. Culver was not the place I’d been born, but I was certain it’d be the place I’d die.

“I want unobstructed access to the south side when this goes down. I’m not looking for collateral damage. Ensure the night’s patrol is light.”

He looked at me, shook his head, and then said he’d work on it: Batista-speak for yes. “You’re going to need ordnance, then.”

I told him yes, but that it wouldn’t be coming from him.

As ever, he’d already done more than enough.


Outside Carmine’s place I load the launcher as soon as I see that Toomey and his crew are given the go through. Ten minutes later and I light the night. Upon entering, I can’t help but think back to men like Toomey. Hell, to men like Carmine himself. Lowlifes who think they deserve; men arrogant enough to believe the streets were theirs; who would rob and kill and extort and have others do the very same thing in their name. I picture Mick the Fish, Danny Dolan, Marcel Abrum. They were special, each of them, all receiving a little extra piece of my time. To Toomey I will do the same. He of wood chipper fame deserves no less.

As the Kevlar takes two to the chest I turn, dive, but take one in the side of the leg as I return fire. I hear a click. Another. And then the gun as it’s tossed aside.

“Come if yer comin’, goddammit!”

I do. It's Toomey, of course. Why men like him never die like the rest of them I will never know.

Through the debris and flame and smoke I see what he’s become—intestines that stream outwards, flowing in place of his legs. Thick, they wind around brick and plaster like pregnant string. He gurgles, spits up, and as I approach I step on as much of him as I can. In the end I don’t need bullets. I only look him in the eye.

To protect and serve, Batista says. To protect and save, I respond.

I admit the difference is vast.

In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter.

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