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Little Ed's Word

"Don't let your mouth write a check your butt can't cash."

In The Gutter, there is no overdraft protection.

Little Ed's Word by John Ryan

Word was Little Ed packed a heater in his back waistband but he always wore a jacket that he never shed. So, who could know? He was a bulky guy anyway, and the jacket was one of those oversized and shiny numbers with fake sports team lettering in cursive across the back. You could see he liked when people asked him about it, and that it leant him some power with a few guys who were easily impressed, but he never let on one way or the other. He liked to stand inside the entrance to the pool hall and make like a bouncer to the little guys who came in. We never saw him play. Least that’s what I remember. I haven’t seen him since that one day.

That one day in step two lanky guys, sweaty, nervous, pistols out, one jacked out of his skull, yelling for everyone to throw their wallets on the tables and we’re thinking, Pool hall? How dumb? But if that dumb, how violent? So we comply, though we’re all flicking our eyes at Little Ed like, Do something, man! But he just gets down on his knees, bends at his thick waist, puts his forehead to the ground like a penitent, and folds his hands over his head as if this is the Big One, the Russians have finally done it, and even though we’re underground, we’re all gonna get blasted deeper down to hell. The jacked guy is running across tables now, whooping and scooping up wallets and one purse—where the hell did that come from? Oh, right, Jeanine—and his partner is very calmly catching what he throws with a big stretched-open gunny sack, occupying his gun hand with it, and the guy’s a pretty good catcher, only missing one here or there, but he doesn’t stoop to pick those up, and again we’re flicking our eyes to Little Ed like, Get up and use your piece, asshole! Now’s your chance!

But he’s trembling, we can see it. And by the time everybody there who has ever felt annoyed or just plain bored by Little Ed’s posturing has figured out that he isn’t gonna draw, that he’s chickenshit, Mr. Jacked-Up and Johnny Bench there are bolting up the cement stairs. There’s a brief, widening light from the street door opening on their dusty wake, then the darkness of the stairway. The only movement in the hall’s from a few swinging table lights jolted by the jacked guy.
Everyone stays still a minute, till we know for sure they’re gone. No one’s been clonked on the head or slapped around or anything, it was real efficient. Finally, people start moving again, muttering to themselves and then each other, and maybe all becoming aware that that blues number has been playing the whole time but no one could hear it for the violation. 

Finally, Little Ed lifts his head up, looks around, then stands and brushes off the knees of his trousers and looks at no one and everyone sheepishly. Tommy Drissell takes off his muscle T, folds it neatly, and sets it on the table where his nine-ball game got all fucked up by the jacked guy. Bob Yeong, whose wager on Tommy’s game had been going really favorably, calmly withdraws what looks like a conductor’s baton till he slashes it through the air and it extends into, like, a police baton. Even Jeanine, a very tough chick I would not fuck with, is cracking her knuckles, her dark eyes sizzling in the still-swaying Pabst light hanging over the nine-ball game. Yeah, she was Tommy’s opponent before. Not anymore.

They all turn Little Ed’s way without a word. The rest of us kind of part to create some space for them. The blues singer on the radio is hitting a really pretty high note, but it’s got some pain in it, of course. What’s next is so obvious that even Dumb Benny, the mute who empties the trash and refills coffee, even he knows that the real violence is about to begin.

John Joseph Ryan writes unusual tales, verse noir, and crime fiction. His poetry has appeared in River Styx, Delmar, and Noir Riot, and his stories have appeared in Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey, Suspense Magazine, and elsewhere. John’s debut novel, A Bullet Apiece, featuring detective Ed Darvis, was published by Blank Slate Press in 2015. John is a member Private Eye Writers of America. He lives in St. Louis.