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Killin' Floor

You might remember these two from last year's "Desert Heat."

If not, all you need to know is they are bad mutherfuckers, who love the blues.

Killin' Floor by Bill Baber




When Gaff and me got paroled from Huntsville—him late in 1959 and me in early spring of ’60—we both swore that our home state of Texas would never see us again.

While waiting for me to get out, Gaff passed the time looking into employment opportunities. He secured us work in the collections department of Señor Ramon Alvarez’s vast criminal empire. We headed west to Tucson, then south to San Carlos, Sonora, and were in the employ of Alvarez for nearly four years until he thought we were double crossing him and we had to arrange a hostile takeover of his business holdings.

The first job we took on as independent contractors required a visit to El Paso, which is technically located in Texas but doesn’t really count. Because there are places in Texas with redeeming qualities; El Paso ain’t one of ’em.

*

Dalton Crawford met us in the lobby bar of the Grand Hotel downtown. He was a tall fella, about fifty, with a paunch and thinning ash blonde hair. Beads of perspiration dotted his pallid complexion. He was drinking bourbon and water and ordered us the same. When he shook hands, his skin was as soft as ginned cotton. He spoke in a high reedy voice, explaining that he was a professional gambler who was suffering through a temporary run of bad luck. His father was a wealthy West Texas oil man, and as his only heir, Dalton figured to collect a fortune if the old man was out of the way.

After finishing our drinks, we repaired to his room to discuss the proposition he had for us. He wasted no time in offering us five grand to kill his daddy.

Gaff took him in for a minute. “Well son, considerin’ the sorry state of your finances right about now, we would require the fee to be paid in advance of any services rendered. On top of that, your offer is a bit low.”

Old Dalton visibly withered under Gaff’s gaze.

“Well,” Dalton stammered, “what would be required for a job of this nature?”

“Usual fee is right around five,” Gaff replied. “But this is a high profile hit you’re askin’ us to make. Son, you know your daddy has friends in high places and there would be some political pressure to apprehend those responsible. We’ve been in the contract killin’ business for awhile now and we’ve never terminated someone of your daddy’s stature.”

Gaff pulled a half pint of Beam from his hip pocket. He took a belt and offered it to me. After a long pull, I passed it back. He didn’t offer it to old Dalton. He then lit a Lucky, smoked for a bit, all the while regarding Dalton Crawford. I knew Gaff well enough to tell he despised what he saw.

“Seventy five hundred,” Gaff finally said.

Crawford swallowed hard. I figured he sure would have liked a taste of that whiskey.

“All right,” he hesitantly agreed. “That’s more than I thought the going rate would be. However, the two of you come highly recommended. Of course, you’ll make sure there is nothing to connect this to me?”

Gaff’s blue eyes and his smile turned colder than a tub of cerveza on ice. “We are professionals. This ain’t our first rodeo.”

Crawford opened a nightstand drawer and produced a stack of bills and counted off the amount due. He put a fairly thick wad back in the drawer.

“You can give that to my associate,” Gaff directed. “He’ll need to count it while you and I discuss the execution of this project.”

Gaff took another pull from the half pint. Again he passed it to me. Again he didn’t offer it to old Dalton. Gaff was a cold-blooded bastard—the poor boy was gonna die and Gaff wouldn’t even give him an adios taste.

After removing his low brimmed straw hat, he began moving almost imperceptibly toward Crawford.

“I shoot a man from a distance only as a last resort,” Gaff began. “Too many variables, too much can go wrong. And I don’t use a handgun most of the time. The noise can draw attention. Most of the time, even though this is a business, I don’t like the men that I kill—what I do like is gettin’ close, seein’ the fear in their eyes and then watchin’ the life slip out of ’em. Ya see, I got no use for a man who can’t do his own killin’. To me, that’s the worst kind of a coward.”

Crawford tried to back away but there was nowhere for him to go. Gaff grabbed his hair, snapped his neck back, and slit his throat with a razor sharp Mexican switchblade.

There was twenty-seven hundred more dollars in the nightstand and we would collect ten grand for the open contract some Vegas boys had put out on Dalton Crawford when they discovered his card counting had cheated them out of a bundle.

Later that night, we crossed the border into Juarez. It was a warm, late-spring night and the beer and tequila went down mighty easy. After a feast at Julio’s, we headed for the Boundary Bar. There was a bunch of boys from Ft. Bliss in there whoopin’ it up and Long John Hunter was tearin’ it up on the stage. Gaff was dancing with a Mexican girl and I was thinking how it had been a profitable return to a state we said we would never again be caught dead in. When Long John took a break, Gaff went up and talked with him for a bit. When the next set started Gaff went out to the Chrysler and came back in with his turquoise Fender.

Gaff got up there with the band and they went into “Killin’ Floor.” Gaff played with his eyes closed like every tortured note out of his guitar was a confession. He knew those blues all too well.

Bill Baber has worked as a bartender, ranch hand, truck driver, and as a sports columnist. His crime fiction has appeared at The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn and The Big Adios. His poetry has been featured in Slow Trains and The High Desert Journal. A collection of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press 2011. He enjoys afternoons at the track and cold Mexican beer.