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Short Timer

In memory of our good friend, William E. Wallace. 

Short Timer by William E. Wallace

The mark was snoozing on one of those new benches in the southeast corner of the park,
lolling his head forward so he almost seemed to be studying his lap. He'd been in that position so long a passerby might have thought him dead.

Bobby Joe McClarity knew better. He had been squatting in a brushy stand of aspens on a gentle rise a few yards away for the last half hour, watching the sap and checking how often strollers passed by him.

McClarity had excellent vision, plenty of patience, and dressed more like a strong-arm victim than most of his targets. That’s how he’d managed to mug sixty-seven people in the last two years without once drawing the attention of police.

He eyeballed his prey like a lion in one of those nature shows he loved to watch. Standing up, he slipped his hands out of his coat’s side-entry pockets and held his flick knife low in his right with the razor-sharp blade folded closed. His eyes swept the area for witnesses as he made his way down the knoll, moving quietly to avoid disturbing the sleeping man.

As he drew alongside, McClarity's initial impression was confirmed. The mark was an old man.

He wore a military surplus pea jacket on his lap that hid his right hand and a handkerchief on top of the garment in his left. His T-shirt showed the goose flab of his upper arms. Coarse gray hair curled under the sweatband of his Marine Corps cap. The loose skin on his bicep creased his faded eagle, globe, and anchor tattoo.

McClarity guessed the mark might be seventy, maybe even older. He grinned. This would be a piece of cake.

Looming over his victim aggressively, McClarity snapped open the knife’s blade next to the old man’s face. The bright metal gleamed as it caught a ray of sunshine.

Roused by the sound, the mark raised his head and glared at McClarity with one eye.

“Wake up, pops!” McClarity said, prodding the man’s cheek with the knife. “Give me your wallet and everything in your pocket or I’ll cut your fucking throat and leave you here to bleed.”

The mark yawned without a hint of fear in his pale, watery eyes then erupted in a rattling cough that seemed to last several minutes. He spat a nasty looking brick red oyster on the sidewalk and wiped spittle from his mouth with the handkerchief. “Go fuck yourself, kid,” he said in a raspy voice. “I’m taking a nap. Find some other duffer to annoy.”

For an instant, McClarity was speechless. The old man was the first victim to resist him. The rest of them always complied immediately. McClarity drew himself up and bared his teeth angrily. “Listen, pops. I’m not just fucking around here,” he growled, poking the old timer’s cheek again. This time hard enough to draw a few drops of red. “Give me all your shit or I’ll kill you!”

Incredibly, the mark slowly wiped the blood away with the hanky and gave McClarity a dismissive look.

“Shit is all you’re going to get from me, dipstick,” the old man said, nonchalantly. “I have inoperable lung cancer. I’ve been zapped with so much radiation, I glow in the dark. It don’t matter, though. The crab’s already in my lymph nodes, liver, and just about everywhere else. Hell, they have to put me on a kidney pump twice a week to keep me from drowning in my own piss.

“I’m the ultimate short-timer. I’ll probably croak in a couple months. The only thing keeping me from checking out earlier is the morphine I’m taking for the pain. If you killed me, you’d be doing me a favor.”

McClarity set his jaw as he drew back his blade. “Consider this a favor then, pops,” he said grimly, preparing to perforate the old man’s chest. “I’m going to be around a lot more than three months and I need money to get by.”

As McClarity started his upward swing, there was a deafening explosion and a half-inch hole appeared in the front of his jacket. A second blast bored a duplicate alongside. McClarity dropped his knife and struggled to block the openings as blood pumped out and sucked back in. Moving his mouth as if he was trying to say something, he toppled to the ground, staring at the old man with sightless eyes. 

“Guess you aren’t going to be around as long as you thought,” the old man said, exposing  the antique military model Colt .45 he had under his pea coat. In the distance, he heard the siren of an approaching police car followed by a second one nearby.

“I may be a short-timer,” he said to McClarity. “But I’m damned if some stupid punk is going to punch my clock before my time is up.”

Former San Francisco Chronicle reporter William E. Wallace's most recent book, Face Value: An Eddie Pax Novella, was released as a Shotgun Honey Single in July 2016. His earlier books, Hangman’s Dozen (2016) and Dead Heat with the Reaper (2015) were published by All Due Respect books. His short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Out of the Gutter Online, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Beat to a Pulp, Plan B and Spinetingler. He blogs hardboiled crime fiction at