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Belly or the Head

They say that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it.

Down in the Gutter, what's the difference? Remember. Forget. Either way, you're still pretty much fucked.

Belly or the Head by R.J. Spears




“Belly or the head?” the man asks, pressing the gun tip into the back of my head.
           
Same lousy choices as the first time I got asked that question thirty-two years ago.

I was ten. Tank was twelve and earned his nickname by being as wide as a dump truck and as tall as an NFL lineman. Tank had been held back in the fifth grade two years in a row and was easily the biggest kid in the class. He terrorized every kid in the neighborhood, day-in, day-out, 365 days a year.
           
“Belly or the head?” Tank asked again as he punched me in the arm, nearly knocking me over. I told myself not to cry because that only made it worse. “The head,” he said, “I might knock out a tooth, break your nose, give you a black eye. The stomach, you’ll suck air for a few minutes and just think you’re going to die.”

I already knew the drill. It was the same speech Tank gave all his victims.

“And you’ll probably puke,” Tank added for good measure.
           
I took the belly. I always took the belly. I hated the idea of being punched in the face.
           
Here I was, all these years later, faced with the same decision, only this time it wasn’t Tank’s meaty paw but a bullet.
           
“Belly or the head?”

The one asking now is none other than the Galvaso Family’s main enforcer, Frankie the Bull. He playfully slaps the barrel of his gun against the side my head, laughing as he does it. My head rings with pain and I feel a trickle of blood down my cheek.

“I need one more chance,” I plead, a blindfold covering my eyes, my hands zip-tied behind my back.

“You’re out of chances.” His breath stinks of stale coffee and cigars. “You can’t welch on your debts, then go around town jack-jawing about how you’ve pulled one over on the Galvasos. It’s bad for business. So, now, you’ve got a choice.”

There it was again but I beat him to the punch. “Yeah, belly or the head, I get it. But can’t I have another choice? What if I got you the money and left town?”

“You’re not smart enough to stay away.”

A cool breeze sweeps by as I weigh what could be the last decision of my life.

“We’re wasting time here,” Frankie the Bull says. “Make a choice. Head, it’s over quick. Belly, I could blow out a kidney or sever a blood vessel, but you might live. It’ll hurt like a bitch but there’s always a chance you’ll make it. If you do, you know the deal, I’ll pay off your debt.”

That’s his game. Like Tank, Frankie’s a sadistic son of a bitch who gets off on terrorizing people, giving false hope. He is a man of his word, though. If you survive being gut shot, he pays off your debt. It doesn’t make any sense, but he’s as insane as a shithouse rat.

“Like Crazy Tommy?” I ask.

“Yeah, like Crazy Tommy,” he says. 

Crazy Tommy is a legend, being the only person who survived one of Frankie’s hits. He took the gut shot and survived after crawling a few blocks to the nearest hospital. And he never ratted out Frankie. That’s the honor code among low-life criminals, I guess.
 
“Okay, the clock’s ticking. What’s your choice?”

My legs are shaking so badly that I’m thinking I might collapse.

“If I choose,” Frankie says, “I’m going for the head.” He presses the gun against my forehead, the circle of the barrel feeling ice cold.

“Belly, belly, belly!” I scream.

“Good choice,” he whispers as he takes the barrel away from my head. Two seconds later the gun sounds and a searing heat rips through my abdomen. I feel like someone’s sent a Scud missile through me. Incapacitated by the pain, I fall to the ground. Wave after wave of agony ripples through my body, but then it gradually recedes down to a dull thud. A warm liquid seeps out my stomach and onto my legs, but I am alive.

I hear a snipping sound and my hands are free. Footsteps move away from me. I wait ten seconds and remove my blindfold. There is nothing but desert around me as far as the eye can see.

Then comes the laughter and I look up to see Frankie about to step back into his Caddie SUV. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “If Crazy Tommy made it, so can I, but he only had to go four blocks. You have forty miles.”

He slams his door, still laughing, and pulls away.

I start crawling, holding my intestines in as they try to make their way out through the gaping wound in my stomach. I think I hear the howl of a coyote in the distance. It’s going to be a long night.


R.J. Spears is a filmmaker and award winning writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. He splits his writing time between mystery/crime and horror. His stories have appeared on A Twist of Noir, Shotgun Honey, Flashes in the Dark, and the Horror Zine along with other sites. You can learn more about his writing at: rjspears.com