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They say compassion gets you into heaven.

In The Gutter, it's a one-way ticket to the ditch.

Initiation by Brendan Bakala

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Shut the fuck up!” The voice bellowed loud and vengeful, like an edict from an angry god.

I didn’t know for sure but it felt like at least two of my ribs were broken and I didn’t want anymore. I sat on the floor silent and bleeding, with my back against the wall, watching my captor.

Angel Navarro paced the warehouse floor like a little boy going over all his sins before making his first confession. Admittedly, he didn’t have an easy task. Killing doesn’t come naturally for most people, even street trash like Angel. What made it even harder was that I wasn’t exactly your typical first hit.

“Fuck!” He screamed at the top of his lungs.

The itch to speak returned but I hesitated.

The vein on his left temple was pulsing big and thick. He was aggravated, torn apart by a conscience he’d shelved for years. It had returned for one last, glorious stand.

Something told me I didn’t have a lot of time to make my case. Fortune favored the bold. “Look,” I started with the calmest, most level-headed voice I could muster. “You haven’t done anything wrong. If you let me go, I won’t tell anyone about this.”

“Liar!” The .22 automatic rose and fell with his animated hand motions, scaring me more than his skepticism. “You’ll fucking rat me out.”

“That’s not true,” I said without blinking. “I’m not a fucking cop. I’m an insurance agent.”

“That’s bullshit, maricon.” He pointed the gun directly at my head. “What the fuck kind of insurance salesman sells in this neighborhood?”

He had a point. My latest exploits on the wrong side of the tracks had been a PR stunt dictated from corporate on-high. Something about appealing to the growing diversity in America or some other P.C. bullshit. Long story short, a couple of Kings had seen me knocking on doors and by the time I finished off the block, there was a gun in my face and I was being forced into the back of a lowrider.

After a thorough interrogation with more punches and kicks than questions, my fate was decided. I was to be Angel’s initiation ceremony. He was going to pop his cherry on me, then dispose of my body. He would be made a full member, a made man, an OG, whatever they call it these days. Unless I could convince him otherwise. 

“Look, I don’t know what you think you know, but you’re wrong.” I took a deep breath and stared right into those big, brown eyes. “I was told to sell here door-to-door. It’s my job. I’m not a narc or a cop or whatever the hell you think I am.”

The hand holding the gun quivered. The barrel jumped as if caught between two competing winds.

“I have a wife and a little girl,” I said.

His eyes widened. In sympathy, perhaps.

“Let me go home to them,” I said.

Those big brown marbles went watery. When he blinked, tears rolled down his cheek. That’s when the gun went steady.

“Don’t,” I pleaded.

He cocked the hammer back and his index finger slipped into the trigger guard.

“For the love of God─”

Click. He squeezed the trigger again and again. Click. Click. Click. Frustration replaced sadness. He took out the magazine, jammed it back in, pulled back the slide, and squeezed the trigger. More clicks. He let out a string of expletives.

I tried to think of something to say, but found myself mute.

Angel threw down the gun and let out another round of swearing, this time in Spanish. He looked around, nervous then scared. He swiveled and raced for the door.


The next morning was like any other: bacon, eggs, and coffee. I was alone in my studio.

By then, the police had asked me a slew of questions: times, dates, and names. I didn’t know Angel’s last name or his background. I told the cops I thought I heard one of his gangbanger buddies call him Angel. They let me out after a couple of hours, urging me to be aware of my surroundings. They asked if I had family or friends who could pick me up. I told them a taxi would suffice.

I was about to refill my coffee mug when I saw a familiar face in the Tribune. Angel’s mean mug under the bold print: Vicious Gangland Shooting. Apparently, his buddies popped him while he was at his Mom’s house.


It became something of a serial after that. A look into the dark heart of America’s crime problem: the school-to-prison pipeline, the War on Drugs, gentrification, the plight of people of color. Days and weeks passed and they still wrote about poor Angel Navarro.

It was bullshit, if you ask me. The kid was a killer without luck. One gun jam away from being just another murderer.

Brendan Bakala grew up in Chicagoland in a big family. After four years at an all-boys, Catholic military school, he went to a small liberal-arts college in Iowa where he learned how to spin yarns. Today, he writes stories and chews bubble gum. He always seems to run out of bubble gum.