If you're on a good run, watch out.
The Gutter doesn't grant lucky streaks.
The Gutter doesn't grant lucky streaks.
Second Chances by Liam Sweeny
The wind threw snow at Mark like six-pointed ninja stars, stinging raw what little skin poked through his wrapped form. He wanted seven layers up, five down, but he’d have to run soon, maybe hide out for an hour or more. He had to be quick, and sweat was his mortal enemy that night.
He had fucked up bad and coughed out a laugh when he thought about why he was running in Gorman’s crew.
He knew the guy from the days back in high school when he bought dope from Gorman’s house in the South Island. The house was a shabby shit show, but when you’re a high school pothead, the House of Pot is a mansion if it was a shack. He barely knew Gorman back then. He was a custee’. They didn’t run together.
But they graduated. Gorman to a felony factory and Mark to a college experience that ended with an arrest for a bag of weed and a bong on campus. The 0.1 GPA had something to do with it too.
Mark kept the connect for the dank shit, which Gorman still procured, and the repetition of business pleasantries blossomed into a passive friendship.
Mark worked at the MetalWorks factory. A betting slip left carelessly on the acid bath table turned into a pink slip tucked forcefully in his next paycheck. No second chances, the boss told him.
Gorman turned out to be a second chance, and Mark began his job at the felony factory. B-and-Es, fast scams, auto-theft, jacking freight trucks, and, of course, drugs: weed, coke, meth, smack.
Gorman called it The Wild West Drug Store.
No bookmaking, though. “I’ll take a crack-head over a degenerate gambler any day,” Gorman said. “You lose money from a crack-head, they jones. They need that shit, and they’ll be coming to you with a twenty the next day. You might lose a twenty on a front, but that’s your own damn fault.” Mark and Gorman shared a Cuban cigar that day. “You lose thousands with gamblers in one shot, and sure, the vigg is good, but when they can’t pay, you’re huntin’ the motherfuckers down. Fuck that shit.”
Gorman took Mark into his inner circle after a while.
Mark wasn’t a charismatic man, or a genius, but he could do a job of questionable moral flavor with dead taste buds. Short of killing a man, Mark would do anything. Twenty years standing over an acid bath made Gorman’s jobs feel like a smoke break.
But, he fucked up. And, again, a betting slip was involved. Not one left on the scene, but one left on his mind, a losing slip. He should’ve been paying more attention to the numbers on the side of the eighteen-wheeler parked at the truck stop.
Mark thought he was dead when Gorman opened a trailer full of dish soap and not the assorted electronics that, by that time, were on their way to every mall in the tri-cities.
He could see the red, white, and blue back-lit acrylic that formed the iconic AmeriMart chain of convenience stores. The parking lot was empty, due in large part to the late hour and the bitter cold.
He turned the corner. The neon beer and cigarette signs came into view. He felt the pistol, cold and alien, tucked into his layers. He wasn’t a gun guy, figuring the odds of things going tits up were much higher if he was strapped.
Mark trotted through the parking lot, past the pumps – careful not to run and attract attention, but careful not to stroll on in and attract just as much attention on such a bitter night. He looked inside and was met with a big obstacle.
Apparently, another man had not taken a car. A big man. A loud, gregarious man who seemed to take it upon himself to keep the cashier company, despite her visible disinterest.
Mark had to walk around like he was looking for some overpriced groceries, inspecting shit as he figured out a plausible reason, if asked.
The oaf kept talking, something about his Great Dane.
Mark had to do something to kill time. He glanced at the wall rack of scratchers bracing the cigarette racks. Old habits die hard, but it was an idea.
“Can I get ten of the Cash Mountains?” he asked the clerk.
Her name tag read: Carrie. She pulled out a roll of ten.
Mark put a crumpled twenty on the counter. He took the tickets with a murmur of thanks and went over to one of the tables. He scratched them, trying to look engrossed, but his eyes kept darting up to the big guy.
In a brilliant instant of kismet, the big guy left just as Mark was scratching away on the last ticket.
Mark tucked the spent tickets in his pockets, and, gulping down the nervous energy, he pulled out the gun, holding it level to his waist. “Everything in your drawer, right now, and you don’t get hurt. It’s not worth your life.”
Carrie’s eyes darted in every direction they physically could, but she was efficient. She opened the door and pulled out the cash. “Do you want the change too?”
“Just the bills,” Mark said.
“It’s only four hundred, about,” she said.
“It’ll do. Just give it to me.”
She handed him the bills.
Mark needed to make his getaway. It should have been the easy part, but as he turned around, he heard the front door open.
The big guy again.
Mark forgot his gun was at his hip.
The big guy reached around his back and ducked behind a metal rack of DVDs.
Mark never realized how loud gunshots rang inside an enclosed space. He also never realized the searing pain in his chest was a gunshot wound until he collapsed on the tile floor.
Detective LeClere held a roll of scratch-off tickets found on the perp. He walked over to his partner, Detective Burris. The gurney was rolling the body out of AmeriMart in a black bag.
“Get this,” LeClere said. “Cashier says he robbed her for four hundred.” He handed Burris the tickets. “This was on his person.”
Burris glanced at it. “So?”
“Look at it.”
Burris scanned the roll of tickets. On the last one, his eyes widened. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Twenty-five thousand-dollar winner.” LeClere said. “Perp was so busy waiting for his move, he didn’t even bother to check the tickets.”
Burris let out a grunt. He handed the scratch-offs back to Detective LeClere. “Should’ve stuck to gambling.”