When the piper comes knocking,
You better be sure everyone's on board to answer.
You better be sure everyone's on board to answer.
A Misunderstanding by Travis Richardson
After the call ends, Russell cannot stop his hands from shaking. He’s screwed up before, but nothing on this scale. “Fuck me.” He sprints up the stairs. Entering his bedroom, he wakes his wife, Phoebe.
“What’s happening?” she asks.
“We gotta leave in ten minutes.”
She bolts out of bed. “Why?”
“A misunderstanding with Victor. Get the boys packed.”
“Can’t you call him and fix it?”
“I’ll fix it later. Go!”
She races to the boys’ room.
Inside their walk-in closet, Russell opens the gun safe. He stuffs a Beretta M9 behind his back and shoves a sawed-off shotgun along with ammo into a duffel bag. From the floor safe, he pulls out a manila envelope stuffed with $20,000. He runs to the boys’ room.
Phoebe holds their crying two-year-old, Kenny, while packing diapers.
Russell Jr., the five-year-old, stands with his arms defiantly crossed. “I’m not going.”
Russell points at his namesake. “Five minutes and your ass better be in the car.”
Junior’s eyes widen. He grabs his backpack and stuffs it with clothes.
“Phoebe, pack your…” Russell hears an approaching car. “Take the boys to our bathroom. Stay there until I tell you it’s safe. Go.”
She grabs both boys and rushes to the master bedroom.
Russell pulls out the Berretta and runs downstairs to look out the window. There’s a Cadillac in the driveway. Victor’s hit squad. Shit. The family took too long. Should’ve ran solo. Russell sprints to the back of the house.
Russell pops off a few rounds and flees to the staircase before automatic gunfire peppers the kitchen. He nails one with a center mass shot. Kind of looks like Warren. If he’s wearing a bulletproof vest, like they usually do, he’ll bounce back.
Lying prone on higher ground, he waits, hearing Kenny squealing from inside their bedroom and Phoebe trying to shush him. God, his poor wife and all he’s put her through. Married to a cop, then the scandal. Russell beat a criminal conviction not because he was innocent, but on a technicality. She stood by him and lost all her friends. When he took over security for infamous underworld boss, Victor Fugate, she wasn’t happy, but accepted it. The money helped too. But would she accept this mistake?
The master bedroom door opens. Phoebe peeks out. Jr. must be watching his brother.
“Go back inside,” he whispers.
Her head shakes no. She is about to speak when a dark body streaks across the living room. Gunfire erupts, blowing the banister to pieces. Phoebe disappears behind the door. Russell takes three quick shots. The man drops behind a couch. He missed the head but nailed his body.
Hopefully, he’ll be incapacitated for a while. Enough for an escape. There’s one more man to go if Victor sent his standard hit squad. An armed driver listening through wireless microphones. Which driver though? Scott’s an expert behind the wheel, but not with a gun. Enrique, however, is an ex-Green Beret trained with a skill set that eclipses Russell’s ex-cop background.
Phoebe reappears in the doorway, bouncing a tear-streaked Kenny. “Did you get them?”
“Get back inside. I’ll tell you when it’s safe.”
“Ugh,” a voice says behind the couch. “This hurts like hell, Russell. I think my ribs are broken.”
Jimmy. A good kid for a hitter. Only two-thirds sociopath.
“You’re shooting a full automatic at me, and I don’t have a bulletproof vest. Kind of hard to feel bad for you.”
“Nothing personal. Following orders, you know. And man, is Victor pissed off at you.”
“What did Russell do?” Phoebe shouts.
Russell glares at her, but she ignores him.
“Don’t know, Mrs. Williams. He was crazy mad, though. Last time he was this pissed was when he thought J-Dog was boning his wife.”
She glares at Russell, eyebrows raised.
He shakes his head. “It’s just a misunderstanding,” Russell says. “I swear.”
Phoebe scans Russell’s face like she has X-ray eyes.
He can tell she wants to believe him, but can’t. “Believe me, baby,” Russell says.
She blinks, pulls out her phone, and closes the door.
Relief washes over Russell. He turns his attention back to the couch. “Hey, Jimmy, who’s driving? Scott or Enrique?”
“If you’re hoping for Scott, you’re SOL.” Jimmy laughs, then groans. “Damn, this hurts.”
Wonderful. Russell will have to watch the upstairs windows too. On the flipside, this assault is taking minutes, not seconds. At some point, they’ll have to jet before the cops come.
In spite of his ringing ears, he hears creeping footsteps below. Must be Warren, somewhat recovered. Probably setting up a final attack. Russell rolls away from his position and crawls into his sons’ room. It’s got a window near an old oak tree. The perfect entry point for an invader. He takes the shotgun from the bag. The hallway landing where Russell had been explodes with bullets, wood, and plaster. A pair of military boots crashes through the window followed by Enrique. Russell blows his head off with the shotgun.
Warren climbs up the stairs. Diving, Russell gets his second headshot. From behind the couch, Jimmy releases a flurry of lead from his modified AR-15. A bullet hits Russell’s left shoulder and splinters puncture his face. The shotgun clatters down the stairs. He shoots two rounds into Jimmy before his Berretta clicks empty.
Reeling in pain, Russell runs to the master bedroom for his family. Phoebe stands in front of him, tears streaming down her face. A glowing phone drops from her hand to the floor.
Russell sees a video of himself and Victor’s wife sweating and grunting, wearing only smiles. Victor must have sent it. Speechless, he looks at Phoebe.
She raises the little Colt he bought her years ago. “You put us in danger for a lousy fuck?”
“I can explain.”
“A misunderstanding, right?”
She fires. The bullet hits center mass, just as he trained her, straight through the heart.