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Ten Off the Top

Criminals like to tout the line, Honor thy Father.

But here in the Gutter, revenge can be a mother.

Ten Off the Top by Beau Johnson



As my mother grew older she sometimes shit herself she got so scared.  Not many people knew this about Olivia Dunn, which isn’t so hard a thing to believe.  What is hard to believe is the way she left this world and the reason why.  The why part involves me, or more so my problem, and if I had the choice I would certainly turn back time in an attempt to rectify this.  Since I can’t I’m stuck with what we’ll call the lowest common denominator, which, if I’m truthful, is the whole reason things have played out as they have.
              
“And just because your daddy was some kinda war hero, it makes you no more special than the next guy.  Mikey, you shoulda just paid.”   

He was right of course, but it’s not a particular point I choose to dwell upon.  I had a problem, sure, and I owed some big goddamn bucks, but it was not like I wasn’t ever going to pay.  It was my timing which was off; that I felt mine was more important than theirs.  Again, my fault, and I accept as much, but what they did to mom…this is what keeps me up most nights.  

“Had you done this, nothing like this ever woulda transpired.  Since it did, fine, we live with it.  What I mean to say is I’ll knock ten off the top for your trouble.”  His forehead creases as he says this, his big body coming forward as he laces his hands upon his desk.  Smug, he motions to his goons on either side of me.  They are brothers, Frank and Johnny P, and in an instant my face is introduced to tile floor.  “What it doesn’t mean,” Sal continues.  “Is that you don’t get yours.”
              
The beating is quick but ruthless, and by the time they’re done my dominate hand is slightly lighter than how it arrived.  And you know what?  I took it.  Truth be told, I would have taken it before they did what they did.  But they didn’t do that.  They chose to go and use an alternate route to get my attention.  I believe in this business they call it fair play.  In mine it’s evil with a capital fucking E.  It’s fine though, all good, as I am what my mother made me: a patient man.  I’m also a gambling man, but that’s neither here nor there, and it’s not really something I wish to discuss, not if I can help it.  Meant I might have to look in a mirror.  Meant I might have to…
              
Where was I…
              
Oh yes, loose bowels always getting the better of mom when she’d least expect.  Frank and Johnny P are the reason for her final bout, the brothers I’m told only there to send a message.  Inside, a different door opens, and the younger of the two, Johnny, is unable to reconcile the affliction he’s walked into.  Two punches later and it’s me cleaning up what Johnny refused to smell.  I knew it would happen sooner or later, my profession being what it is, but the manner in which she is delivered to me, this is what I cannot abide. 

It wasn’t punches that did my mother in. 

Not after I get a look at what remained of her face.

Causes me to flashback to when the brothers put me to the floor in Sal’s office.  In hindsight I see Johnny’s shoes as I saw them then, up close and personal, and then the sticky bits I hadn’t noticed jump out at me, each of them screaming.  They focus me, take on a different form, a deeper meaning, and it’s at this exact point in my life that clarity does what clarity does best.

When it fucks me in the ass.

But my hands were tied.  One man against a sea of many.  So I watched instead.  Then waited and healed and paid.  I also continued to process loved ones here at the DUNN FUNERAL HOME.  The same thing I had been doing since before I turned owing twenty grand into forty and then doubling the number by not watching the time as I should have. 

If I were a real man this is where I might choose to talk about the elephant in the room.

Since I’m not I will instead say it’s four years until I am given any type of opportunity to achieve what I’d been looking for.  And be it coincidence, irony, or however you fucking well describe fate, I still smile when I think of what has gotten me here. 

“Very sorry for your loss.”  We’re in the biggest of my visitation rooms, the place a zoo of people who looked as slick and somber as movies portray.  He’s greyer now, mostly around the sides, but it’s his weight which speaks of all the good living he had going on.  Taking the hand he had his men lighten in his, Sal goes overboard, adding his other one to atop the pile. Did he realize?  Sure he did.  It’s what men like him lived for.  In response I put my free hand on his shoulder and look him directly in the eye. “Anything I can do, anything at all---do not hesitate to ask.”  As I hoped, he doesn’t, and all of a sudden I’m making calls, ensuring it’s his people who cater the funeral, his people who usher attendees in.  In the process I give my own employees the day off, stating what most of them already knew: what Sal De Palma wants, Sal De Palma gets.  Complete, it’s on to the lady of the hour, Sal’s mom, and the alterations her body would require.  I do my best to be respectful but all told, I’m still inside part of a woman I had no right being inside of.  Doing this brings my own mother to mind, and how could it not?  But I had to push on; had to follow through.  You know why right?  I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I?

So back to the hollowing out, back to the placing of devices.  All told, I secure sixteen claymores to the inner perimeter of the casket, all obscured by an off-white frill ordered special just in case.  Each mine sits as it should: FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY.  Beneath Sal’s mom’s blue pantsuit is a whole other story: fifteen “pineapple” grenades resting within the canal her son climbed out from.  All ordnance courtesy of a lifelong past gone; my father’s collection from a time I can’t even begin to comprehend. 

Set to go off once the pallbearers begin to lift, it will do as I intend, destroying an entire line of De Palma’s as they sat and paid their respects.  It will destroy my establishment too, and yes, I’m sure I will be caught.  It doesn’t matter though, not really.  Not when one truly understands what they’ve become.

You’re only given one mother in this life.  Fucking cherish her.


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