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Nineteen Steps

The job comes before everything, comes before all. Get in. Get it done. Get out and move on. The job, the job, the job ...

But, goddamn, those legs can make a sucker out of any man ...

Nineteen Steps by McKay Williams




She answered the door in nothing but the frame. Hand hip-cocked like a gunslinger. The cigarette between her fingertips snakes smoke towards her mouth like a tiny dragon.


I wanted her more. Almost as much as I needed her dead.


“You’ll catch cold.” She turned and walked into the house, little tendrils of smoke pulling me with her. I count under my breath to calm my guts. Thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-seven steps to the parlor with the wet bar.

I stop at a Munch print between staircases twisting upward to the bedroom. Not The Scream, the other one, the one of the little girl on the bed. It’s professionally matted and hung just so. If it were real it’d be worth a small fortune, but it’s not. You can tell by the borders.

“For fuck’s sake, Jack. Hurry up.”

“Yeah, I’m coming.” Twenty-four stairs, twelve each flight. Another nineteen steps to the bedroom. I instinctually pat my coat and feel cold steel against the skin under my shirt. I can do this. “How ’bout a drink?”

“Vermouth.”

I grunt something affirmative and shuffle to the parlor. She always keeps the writing desk locked, but I’m able to jimmy it open fairly easily with a letter opener. I pull out the manila folder from the drawer and untie the seal. Just a peek to make sure I’ve got the right one.

The pictures are black, white and grainy but they tell their tale. I’m sure this is it. Has to be.

I reach back into the drawer, find a few stacks of neatly bound bills, which I immediately shove into my coat and some pills that I do not. I close up, wipe down for any fingerprints and take a last look at the room.

The woodwork was handcrafted, turn of the century old. Under the right circumstances you could get a pretty penny for it, if you could strip it without damages. I turn off the lights and pull the forty-five from under my coat. It’s thirty-nine steps from this spot to the stairs, twenty-four up, nineteen to the bedroom. Flip and reverse to the door.

The darkness coagulates around me, thick and heavy. I breathe deep and pull back the hammer. The click cracks the silence like an egg, unmendable.

Half way from the stairs I straighten the gun in front of me in the dark. Just like the movies. Loud end points to the bad guy, squeeze the trigger, don’t pull. Eleven, ten, nine.

The candlelight from the bedroom licks under the closed door. Eight, seven.

She was part of the deal. Get the pictures, get the girl, get out. Couldn’t be helped. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Six, five, four.

If she’d really been smart she’d have seen me coming a mile away. It’s her own fault for being so goddamn sloppy.

Three, two, one.

I turn the handle and throw the door open, leveling the gun straight at the bed where she should be. But she’s not there.

The iced nozzle of her barrel against my temple is the last thing I’ll ever feel.


Mckay Williams lives and writes in Oakland. His stories have appeared in Intersice, Thunderdome, Dirty Noir, and several others. He is currently working on his second novel.