Method Acting

Ten-thousand hours of practice make you a master. 

Ten-thousand hours in The Gutter make you a disaster.

Method Acting by Matt Mattila

It never started with violence. He always walked up with a plan. 

The place was already scouted. Maybe it was empty. Maybe it was occupied. He had ways of finding out. A process he never strayed from. He had no reason to. It had never failed him.
First came three days of watching. Keeping tally of cars, of people, of the times they left, and how long they were gone, when they came back. Whether they went out, or got food delivered, or stayed home all night. Whether they smoked, drank, or hosted fucking acid parties. Whether the neighbors were friendly or argumentative, or kept quiet and shied away. He kept notes. He always kept notes.
He was always the brave one, using the throwaway phone the boss gave him to call the place and wait for an answer. If they pick up: “Sorry, wrong number.” If there was no answer: Hang up and try one more time. There was only one way to find out if they weren’t answering or not home.
He was always the brave one. He went up to check, leaving the throwaway phone in the car and bringing the real one with him.

Be fast, but calm. Smile at anyone who runs into you. Dress casually. “Oh officer, someone did pass through. Might’ve been their friend. He seemed nice.”
He'd knock on the door three times and keep the phone out. No response: He’d knock again. The phone always on the text screen. One letter to the driver outside. “Y” meant good to go/I’m in; “N” meant someone’s home/back off; “R” meant run; “H” meant help, something went really wrong. 
He knocked again.There was a groan inside. Footsteps squeaked across the carpet. Anyone else would have turned around and walked away but he was always the brave one, so he put on a smile.
A short woman in her mid-thirties answered. She was in her pajamas, her eyes tired. She crossed her arms. “What?”
“I apologize, ma’am, is-” He made a show of looking down at his phone. “-Jeffrey here? I’m his Uber driver.”
She blinked. “No. There is no Jeffrey here.” Her tone was stern and her eyes grey steel, fierce and prodding as she sized him up. She took a step back, heel folded above the carpet.

He was always the brave one. He smiled again. “I apologize. This must be the wrong address.”
Go back to the car. Wait until she leaves. Hit it then. She’s seen you. She will remember you. Get out while this still looks innocent.
He turned around and made his way to the staircase.
“Wait,” the woman said.

He was a step away. He should have kept walking, pretend he didn’t hear, but he’d already stopped and turned to face her, his body rotating like hands wound on a clock. “Yes?”
She took another step back into her doorway. “I’ve seen you before.”
He blinked and smiled again, pretended to be perplexed. “I’m sorry?” he asked, taking a step back with the phone open, down at his side.
“You’ve been hanging around here.” She went pale. “You’ve been snooping around, you stalker piece of-”
They each froze in their tracks.

He a one-letter text message: H. Help.
“Christ. I knew you freaked me out for some reason! What do you want? Why can’t you leave me alone?” she yelled.
“Ma’am, I’m just an Uber driver. Calm down.”
Always the brave one, he stepped closer. He was a friend. He was there to help.
“Fuck outta here. I’m calling the cops.”
She turned around and bolted through the door, trying to slam it shut behind her.

On instinct, he followed and kicked it in.
It all happened so fucking fast.
It was a small place, but nice.

Didn’t matter how many times he did this sort of job, he’d never get a pad like this. He’d be lucky if he could get the girl and the baby a car this year.
It’s all so fucking pointless.
She couldn’t run fast.

He tried grabbing her.

There was a fire in her eyes he hated seeing. She thrashed at him like a dying fish. Her long pink nails carved lines into his forearms, blood trickled out.

The pain was sharp and froze him. She kicked him between his legs. He crumpled to the floor as she ran off.

The whole thing was fucked.
He was always the brave one. It was agonizing to pick himself up.
Snap back to it. 

She’d barricaded herself in her room. The door was locked. She was going for a phone or a weapon. She was a boxer on the ropes, with one hell of a punch left in her.
The man in the car needed to get the fuck up here.
He was always the brave one. He had to move, get in there, restrain her, take what he could, and run. He kicked at her until his ankle snapped and his foot went numb. He was screaming and. . .

There was a bang and the whole world went quiet. He looked at a splintered hole in the door. He looked down and saw the red spot growing over his gut. It didn’t hurt. A comfortable numbness filled him. The phone fell from his pocket and bounced on the floor with red fingerprints smudged on the active screen.  

He looked to the hallway for the man from the car. It was empty.

He was always the brave one. He reached down to pick up the phone. It hurt to breathe. He looked at the phone and buckled to the floor.

He hadn’t pressed send. Everything went black.

Matt Mattila has had his short fiction and nonfiction in Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Commuterlit, two anthologies, as part of Lip Service West, and here in the Gutter. Moonlighting as a Hotel Night Auditor, he lives on the wrong side of a Connecticut city. You can find him on Facebook and his blog: