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My Killer Heart

We see a lot of sibling rivalries over here in the Gutter. Sometimes it's jealousy, sometimes it's greed.

But today, it's something else driving the story. There's no tougher job than being my brother's keeper.

My Killer Heart by Benjamin Welton

The fat man slid a gun across the desk. It was a black semi-automatic. 9x18mm. Without question it had serial numbers that had been carefully etched off and a history that played hot potato between buyers and sellers in multiple warzones.

The fat man threw two clips at my chest and finally spoke.

“We need you to kill Jackie. $138,000. Vacation afterwards if you’re interested. You’re usual style is okay, but no funny stuff.”

The fat man was from Bosnia, but no one knew whether he was Muslim, Serb, or Croat. His English is herky-jerky at best, but even if he was a Slavic Shakespeare, he’d still abstain from unnecessary dialog. The fat man always does as little as possible.

“He made some very bad mistakes with some boys in Youngstown, and now they want him. I’m sure you can understand their anger.”

I nodded.

“Good. Call me in the morning when it’s done. And I don’t want to hear any excuses because of who it is.” 

On my way out, one of the fat man’s heavies handed me a envelope with an address on it. It led to a hotel in western Maryland. I knew it well - Jackie and I often stayed there when we were kids.

I waited until nightfall to get started. I loaded the car with food and water for the road, then packed a backup gun just in case. It was an Austrian 7.65mm that I had stolen from an antiques store in Harrisburg. “Parabellum” was written on the barrel.

Parabellum - “for war.” They call me that because I always treat every job like a firefight. I have a reputation for overkill. I do it on purpose because I like being the type of guy that only gets called in when the contract in question involves either a real loser or a real monster. Jackie was a loser. He was also my brother.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew that Jackie was “slow.” They used to say that word with wincing condescension. It was their way of being both nice and mean to the dirt poor Kresge boys. Since no one liked our father, a divorced drunk with a whispered reputation for touching baby girls inappropriately, few offered to help Jackie when the other boys would torment him. When they weren’t beating him half to death, they were forcing Jackie to blow them each by turn just in order to avoid another drubbing.

At that age, my response to Jackie was probably even worse. I was embarrassed by my older, cocksucking brother. The few pictures I have of us together show me looking away from the camera and away from him. My body language is that of someone who would rather be someplace else and next to someone else.

It wasn’t until Jackie tried to conduct our church choir in the nude when I finally wised up to reality. My older brother wasn’t fit to live in this world, and since the Germans gave gas chambers a bad name, I resolved to keep him at home and out of trouble.

Turns out that I’m a horrible guardian. Despite putting Jackie up in a townhouse with neighbors that I paid a pittance to keep eyes on him, he still managed to escape. Sometime six months ago, he ran off. By all accounts he wound up in Youngstown and stayed long enough to piss off the mob.

I arrived at the hotel at 2 A.M. Jackie was in room 100 just like the envelope said. He answered the door on the fourth knock.

“What are you doing here, Walt?”

Softcore pornography was playing on the TV near the foot of Jackie’s unmade bed. By the look of things, he hadn’t left the room in days.

“Came to see you, Jackie. Got a minute?”

“Sure. It’s real late, but there’s a diner I know that’s open 24 hours.”

“Don’t have that much time.”

When he heard my words stiffen, and when he noticed that my right hand hadn’t left my back pocket, he knew.

“You know, dad always said you were gun crazy. Said you love Smith & Wesson more than family. He loved you more, though. He was gun crazy too, I guess. He send you?”

“Dad’s been dead for years, Jackie. Don’t you remember?”

“Sure, I do. I haven’t forgotten who killed him either.” Jackie’s eyes narrowed.

“Then why ask me such a question?”

“Been seeing a lot of ghosts lately. Starting to think they’re real.”

I looked down at the rotten carpet because I could no longer look him in the eyes. I didn’t answer him. I just made sure the door was open behind me, pointed, and emptied. A woman down the hall screamed.

I threw the gun away somewhere dark on I-68 and resolved to never think about Jackie again. At 4 A.M., I called the fat man from somewhere in West Virginia.
“What the hell is this? I said morning.”

“He’s dead.”

“Good, but it’s four o’clock in the morning. The news could’ve waited.”

“I’m going to be on vacation for a while. Send the money to this address.”

I read him our old home address, which no longer existed. Jackie and I had burned the place down years before.

“Going anywhere nice?”

“No, nowhere nice.” 

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vermont. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Crime Magazine, The Crime Factory, and others. His short stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Sanitarium Magazine, The Lovecraft Ezine, and more. He has been a librarian, fast food morlock, sailor, military lawman, teacher, and software QA engineer.