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Mistakes are why pencils have erasers.

In The Gutter, mistakes get you rubbed out quick.

Blockhead by B.D. Keefe

Brendan Block’s wife and kids picked him up on his return from a Vegas trip he had taken with some old Tau Kappa Epsilon brothers. One look at Jenna’s sweet face and the twins’ white-blonde heads sent a pang through his bowels. He had really screwed up this time. Having earned the nickname “Blockhead” during sophomore year due to his poor decision-making -- particularly with a few beers in him -- the mistake he made this trip really took the cake. It was worse than the night he broke in and placed a blow-up sex doll behind the college president’s desk. It was even more serious than the time he gave Jenna the clap after a business trip to New Orleans.

After three straight afternoons at titty bars followed by three all-nighters at The Sands, Blockhead had found himself fading in and out of a drunken blackout, in some kind of backroom card game with a group of guys who could have formed their own police line-up. One thing led to another, and he got into a business conversation with a person who may or may not have come directly from hell. By the next morning, Blockhead realized with horror that he had contracted a murder for hire. He couldn’t recall a single detail, but he knew every one of them was bad.

Sure, Jenna had packed on a few pounds over the years, but other than that she was practically as hot as the night they first did Jager shots at an under-aged joint off campus. Yes, he was being crushed by massive debt, but a half-million dollar insurance policy was nothing in the big picture; even his own policy of a million-point-five wasn’t worth murder. Maybe he could convince her to do one of those fitness boot camps to firm things up a little. He certainly didn’t want to see her dead.

At the baggage claim he handed the kids t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: It’s Only a Gambling Problem If I’m Losing, and tousled their hair in the way he thought a father should. Jenna kissed him lovingly. The knowledge that he had only the vaguest idea of what the scary bastard from the card game looked like gnawed at him. The fact that he had no way to call the monster off was a million times worse.

Starting that night, Blockhead gave up sleeping, close as he could manage. He’d start next to Jenna until her breathing slowed, then slip quietly downstairs to the den. There was a picture window there with a view on the driveway and cul-de-sac. He would sit with his Springfield .40 by his side, late game silently flickering across the room. His only souvenir of the abomination was a receipt from a Vegas ATM, time-stamped 5:40 a.m. with a withdrawal for $1,200. Blockhead couldn’t recall specifics, but he knew for sure it was a down payment on the hit that might come at any time.

He became a zombie at work, black rings under his eyes like an extra from a George Romero film. While once he was the hedge fund’s most dynamic trader, he now spent his work hours cruising the Internet for home defense tips. He even maxed out a credit card on an elaborate camera system.

In the small hours one Friday, three weeks after the night watch began -- just two days after Blockhead received a foreclosure notice on the house -- the man appeared. One second the killer was on CCTV, and the next he was in the den with something high-caliber in his hand. Blockhead fumbled for his Springfield but it was too late. There was the unmistakable sound of a round being chambered.

“I want to call it off!” said Blockhead.

“Too late,” said the man. “A deal’s a deal.”

“Just take the money in the safe.”

“I already got the money in the safe. Three grand, like you said.”

“But the combination…”

“You wrote it on a fuckin’ matchbook. Five-three-six-six-two.”

J-E-N-N-A. “Please. Just don’t hurt my wife or kids!”

“Who said anything about them? The contract is on you.”

“Whatever I said, cancel it.”

“You said you’d say that, Mr. Big Shot with the big insurance policy.”

“I’ll do whatever you say.”

“You said you’d say that, too.”

The man raised the gun and put a bullet into Blockhead’s chest, and another in his head. Then he let himself quietly out the back door. He was well on his way by the time the woman started screaming.

B.D. Keefe lives in Providence, RI with his wife and two young children. By day he works as an elementary school teacher. He publishes horror fiction under a top-secret pen name, and is currently at work on a crime novel under his real name. He enjoys loud music, violent sports, and Genesee beer.