April 18th: The conspiracy
Beating
, by Shay Hatten

Terry Mayhew specialized in beating the shit out of people.

It was how he made his living. How he paid his electric bill and bought his groceries. How he afforded his Netflix subscription, which he sat in front of most nights as he leaned alone over a microwave dinner. It wasn’t something he loved doing, necessarily, but he wasn’t good at anything else, and it was certainly better than checking groceries, or pumping gas. At least this way he maintained his pride, and kept control of his own body.

And it wasn’t as though there wasn’t a market for it. Even in a recession, there were people who wanted to beat the shit out of other people and didn’t have the balls, or the means, to do it themselves. No matter what was happening elsewhere in the world, no matter how many people were losing their homes or starving to death, people never ceased pissing each other off or wronging each other in petty ways.

Ninety percent of the time that’s all it was; petty shit. Ninety percent of the time it was members of the middle class, members of the white collar work force of the United States. They were the easiest market, the most willing to shill over the money. The lower class had no qualms about taking matters into their own hands, and the upper class usually had enough connections that if they wanted to smack some sense into their wives or children, they could get away with it. But the upper-middle class, they were pussies. Still hoping to keep moving up, not wanting to jeopardize their social positions. And still unhappy enough with where they were to have all that pent up anger, and to want to feel like they had the power to do something about it.

They were the ideal mark.

Usually it was something like “This guy is dating my daughter; I don’t think he’s right for her. I want you to scare him a little.” Or maybe “I think my wife had an affair; I want you to fuck the guy up a little bit. Here’s his work address, here’s his home address, here’s when he takes the trash out at night, that might be a good time to go after him.” Often they told him things like that, having had enough courage to spend a few days playing Phillip Marlowe but not enough to actually do the deed. And Terry would humor them. He would nod and say “Yeah, that might be good.” But it wasn’t good. He wasn’t in the business of jumping people in alleyways, or in their front lawns where their wives and children would find them. Not unless it was a last resort.

Of course, it had taken him a while to work out the perfect system. The one that allowed him to walk away, no questions asked, slink back to his apartment in Queens and crawl into bed. It had taken him years. Years of revising the rules, years of getting sucked into jobs he didn’t want to do, but had to carry out regardless out of a sense of honor. This was back when he’d still had honor, of course. Back before his pride has slunk inside himself to die.

The first job had been one of the worst, one of the messiest. It had come back in 2009, after he returned home from Afghanistan with honorable discharge after getting shot in the foot. He hadn’t done it himself, nor had it been friendly fire; it had a legitimate battle injury acquired during a tactical raid. And yet people didn’t treat it like it was honorable. The most it was ever good for was a free drink every now and then and a sympathetic pat on the back accompanied by a “Shot in the foot, huh? That’s a bitch.” Most of the time, though, people just laughed. Choosing to believe that he had, in fact, done it himself, and was now lying to protect his dignity. Eventually he had just stopped telling people about his past, about the time he had spent serving his country. Nobody gave a shit that he had once bled red, white, and blue, and anybody who claimed otherwise was usually lying anyways. It was just easier to keep it to himself.

Most of the six months following his return home had consisted of him sitting around on the benefits he was never going to use, watching television and letting his body deteriorate. All the muscle he had accumulated was melting away now that he had no use for it, and he was just as glad to see it go. It was just a reminder of a time he would rather forget.

The first fight came in January of 2009, was Terry was drinking alone in a bar on 72nd street. He’d been nursing a beer or four, and had started making eyes at a girl on the other end of the bar. She’d been making them back, waving shyly, giggling to her friends, and Terry was thinking about moving in. He didn’t care how she would look in the morning; she looked damn good now, and that was enough, given how long it had been since his last time. Then her boyfriend had entered, a big ugly looking motherfucker who had sauntered up to her, smacked her ass, and kissed her on the forehead from behind while ordering a beer. Terry’s interest in her had immediately gone out the window. Not because his chances of scoring were gone, but because he now realized what kind of a girl she was. The kind of girl who would go for a guy like that, either because of daddy issues or general lack of confidence, was nothing he wanted to touch. Not with a hundred foot pole, let alone with the respectable seven inch pole that he usually used for matters like this. Terry had turned his attention back to the TV mounted in the corner, which was, for whatever reason, broadcasting an episode of Different Strokes, the closed captioning bars running along the bottom of the screen racked with typos.

The big guy, the ass smacker, had sauntered over about three beers later and leaned his elbow onto the bar next to Terry like he had every right to be there doing just that.

“Hey,” he had said.

“Hey,” Terry had muttered into a bowl of peanuts.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing.” Ass Smacker had chuckled and done a half turn of his head, looking around for supporters. There were none to be found, but Ass Smacker was too drunk, either on beer or hubris, to notice. He’d turned back to Terry, steeled his gaze, and said “Oh really?”

“Really.”

“Because I think you were checking out my girlfriend.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You sure? Take a look at her, so you can be sure.”

Busy watching Gary Coleman dance on the TV screen, Terry hadn’t bothered. Ass Smacker grabbed his head and twisted it around until it was facing the broad, who Terry saw was still smiling. He jerked his head back around and said “Don’t recognize her.”

“I think you do. I think we need to go outside.”

“Outside?”

“Outside, in the alley.”

“You want to fuck me back there or something?”

“I’m gonna beat the shit out of you, actually.”

“Oh. Oh, okay.”

Terry got to his feet and started walking towards the back door, Ass Smacker following behind him. Halfway there, Terry had jerked up with his elbow. He felt it crunch into the side of Ass Smacker’s nose, and then felt a warm spray on the back of his neck. He turned without missing a beat, swung another fist into Ass Smacker’s ear and yet another into his stomach. Then he raised his knee into the man’s balls, stepped back, and watched Ass Smacker fall to the ground.

He took one more precursory glance around the bar, saw the look of shock and glee on Ass Smackee’s face, and the stony look on the face of the bartender. Then he had left. Nobody had tried to stop him and he had walked home unhindered, as though he was returning from a play and not fleeing from the scene of a broken nose and, hopefully, a ruptured testicle. The cops in Queens, even if they had been called, had better things to do than track down the attackers in bar fights.

It took twenty minutes of lying in bed for him to realize that he wasn’t gonna be able to sleep that night. His heart was beating too fast, reliving the seven seconds of heaven in the bar over and over. His body was on fire, excited at the prospect of finally having something to do again besides process alcohol and turn pizza into shit. So he wasn’t useless at everything, it seemed. He could still drop a mother fucker to the ground when need be. It was the very next day that he posted the ad for the first time.

He’d gone to Craig’s List New York and navigated to the “skill’d trade” section; nothing else had seemed applicable. The original text of the ad had read, in all caps to grab attention, “WILL BEAT **** OUT OF ANYBODY – NO QUESTIONS ASKED. $1000.” Under further information he had written, “Don’t reply to this ad on here. Call me on the phone.” Then he had listed his number.

The first call came within thirty minutes of him posting the ad. Looking at the caller ID registering an unknown number, he had gotten excited. Felt his heart start to beat again in anticipation. He answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hi. Is this the number of the man who will beat somebody up, for money?”

“That’s right.” He felt his voice shaking, tried to control it.

“For a thousand dollars?”

The thousand dollars had been a fishing price; he had expected people to try to wager him down, if anyone even called. Still, that wasn’t the only thing odd about this call; the man on the other end of the voice had a nasally voice, the kind Terry would associate with an accountant or a high school science teacher. He had been expecting… well… more of a man.

“That’s right.”

“And cash is okay?”

He told him cash was fine; preferred, even. It wasn’t as though he was planning on paying taxes on it.

“Good, good. So how do we proceed?”

Terry realized he probably should have thought this through before posting the ad, but even as a kid, he was good at talking on his feet.

“We meet up somewhere, in a coffee shop or a restaurant, your choice. You give me a picture of the person you want taken care of and tell me where to find them. And then give me the cash in an envelope.”

“I have to pay you upfront?”

“I hope that’s not a problem. I find it’s best if we limit the amount of times we see each other. There might be some heat on me after this, and it might be suspicious if I’m seen with you handing me an envelope of cash.”

“No, of course. Of course. That makes sense.”

Did it? Terry didn’t know or care; this guy was eating his story like ice cream, which was all that mattered to Terry.

The guy, who called himself Jack Clooney (Terry was sure it was an alias), told Terry to meet up at a diner in Brooklyn the following day at noon. Terry agreed.

Between the time he hung up the phone and the time he went to the restaurant, a few things happened. The first was that his phone rang at least three times an hour for most of the first day. The second was that Terry’s Craig’s List post was taken down; someone had flagged it as inappropriate. He never answered the phone figuring one job was enough for now, and didn’t care much about the post, having never expected much to come of it.

The next day at noon he took the subway to Brooklyn and found the diner that Jack Clooney had described, a cozy little place that evoked memories both of childhood outings with his mother and of Seinfeld, in seemingly equal force. He entered and sat down at one of the tables lining the window. Five minutes later, a skinny man wearing a fedora and aviators that were about six times too big for his face entered the restaurant and sat down at the table behind Terry so that they were sitting back to back. For a minute he said nothing.

And then, ever so quietly, “Are you him?”

It took Terry a minute to realize he was being talked to. When it finally clicked, he said, “What? Who?”

“Are you the guy?”

Terry got out of his seat, walked to Clooney’s table, and took a seat across from him.

“Yes, I’m him,” he said. “Now take off your glasses and hat.”

Reluctantly, Clooney did so. “Are you sure it’s safe?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure. Who’s gonna see us, who’s gonna put this together? Her?” He jerked a thumb a thumb at the broad behind the counter, and then shook his head. “I don’t think so. Come on, give me the details.”

Clooney reached into a briefcase and pulled out a manila envelope, which he slid across the table towards Terry.

“Just don’t be too-”

Terry opened the folder and spread the contents, made up of three pieces of paper, across the middle of the table.

“-obvious,” Clooney finished.

Terry shot him a look and said, “Where do you live?”

“Why are you asking?”

“Just tell me the borough.”

“Manhattan.”

“That’s what I thought. New York is a big place, man. Really, nobody’s watching.”

One of the slips of paper now loose on the surface of the table was a thin white envelope; Terry took this and stuck it into his pocket.

“You’re not gonna count it?”

“Why?” Terry asked, doing his best to look intimidating. “Did you short me?”

Clooney’s face went white, and Terry fought back a smile.

“Come on,” he said. “Tell me this guy’s story.”

“Alright. Brandon Hutz.”

“And this is him?” Terry asked, picking the photo up off the table. It was of a middle aged man, similar in build to Clooney, standing in his front lawn. It could have been Terry’s imagination, but he didn’t think the guy looked like he knew he was being photographed.

“Yeah, that’s him. And all the information is there.” He pointed to the third piece of paper, which Terry glanced at.

On it was a neatly typed list with several categories including work address, home address, and hobbies. Under this, Clooney had typed “Reading,” “Going to the theater,” and “Member of staff bowling league.”

“He’s a bowler? That could be useful.”

“Really?”

Terry gave him another look, eyebrows raised, and Clooney’s enthusiasm dulled once more.

“So what’s this guy’s story?”

“Do I have to tell you?”

“No, I don’t need to know. I’m just curious.”

“Well. Okay. It’s a little embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing? What do I care, I don’t even know your real name.”

Clooney started to protest, then reconsidered. He lowered his head and said, “He beat me out for tenure.”

“Tenure.”

“Yeah. That’s when-”

“I know what tenure is. That’s really all there is to this, that’s worth a thousand dollars to you?”

No response; just a guilty casting of his gaze to the ground.

“Alright,” Terry said. “So how bad do you want him?”

“How bad?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m not gonna kill him either way, but what do you want? Face shots, body shots, what?”

“Face. I want him to have to hide his face.”

“Okay. Anything else? Special requests?”

“No. No, that’s it.”

“Alright. Thank you very much.”

He extended his hand. Clooney looked reluctant to shake it, but in the end did it anyways.

“That’s it? I can go?”

“You can go.”

“Okay. Thank you.” He got to his feet and placed another hundred dollar bill onto the table. “For lunch.”

Terry nodded his thanks, and Clooney left. Terry ordered a grilled cheese and a milkshake and took his time eating it, feeling like a rich man with the thousand dollars tucked away in his pocket.

An hour later he got in his car, drove to Brooklyn, and parked outside the house of one Mr. Brandon Hutz. He sat there for five hours before Hutz emerged, wearing a pea coat and a scarf, a smile on his face as he waved goodbye to whatever family was inside. Hutz got in his car and started to drive. Staying thirty yards behind (a distance he’d heard in a spy movie once), Terry followed him through the streets of Brooklyn for fifteen minutes before he saw him pull to a curb. Terry looped around the block, did the same, and then jogged back around in order to see Hutz disappear inside a nice looking house. Terry’s first thought was that he might be having an affair. As other middle aged men showed up over the course of the next hour, he upgraded his theory from affair to orgy.

Terry counted ten people all together before the flow of guests into the house stopped. He waited another thirty minutes before sneaking to the window and looking in.

What he saw was a group of middle aged guys sitting around a table drinking beer and playing poker. And one of those men, a big goofy grin on his face and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand, was Clooney. He and Hutz appeared to be getting on fine.

Terry discounted his notions of something nefarious going on inside and realized where such theories had stemmed from. Some part of his mind must have felt guilty about what he was doing and tried to assign guilt to the victim in order to justify it. More likely than not, he was a model citizen. Or at the very least, as model as most citizens. His only crime was beating Clooney for tenure.

So be it.

Terry didn’t need him to be evil. He had seen enough good men die that he had no reservations about knocking an average one down a little. Even if he wasn’t guilty of anything, that didn’t mean he was good for anything. Just because he’d never hurt anybody didn’t mean he was of value to society. Terry doubted that most people were of value to society, in fact. They just deemed themselves good by virtue of never doing anything bad.

So he walked back to Hutz’s car and waited for another two hours until he saw him approaching. Then he rose from the shadows and began to walk towards him, just another pedestrian moving in the other direction. When they drew even, he raised his fist and slammed it into the socket of Hutz’s eye. He caught Hutz in his arms when he fell, punched him in the chest and stomach to take his breath and stop him from screaming, and then laid him on the ground and continued to walk while behind him, Hutz gasped for breath.

A minute later Terry passed Clooney on the sidewalk. He winked at him, and continued on his way. Again, he made it back to his apartment undetected.

Three days later, after he was positive there would be no follow-up on what he’d done, he decided to take another job. The calls had stopped coming, but he had twenty nine unheard messages to sort through.

He listened to the first one. “Hey, I’ve got something that needs taking care of, sounds like you might be the man to do it. Thousand bucks, I can pay in advance. Give me a ring. Name’s Jack Package.”

Deciding that Don Johnson sounded reasonable enough, and respecting the fact that he had picked so ridiculous an alias, Terry skipped the other messages for the time being and gave package a call. They arranged to meet the next day at a cafe not far from Terry’s home.

The following day at noon, Terry was sitting in the cafe when package walked through the door. Unlike Clooney, who had looked so unsure of himself, he could identify package as soon as he walked through the door. Middle aged, he was wearing Ray Bans and a nice leather coat and walked with a confidence that made Terry uneasy. The guy spotted Terry immediately, snapped his fingers, and pointed to him as he walked towards him across the restaurant.

Smacking his gum, he sat sideways in his chair and was already pulling papers out of his briefcase before he so much as said hello. When he had everything laid out on the table, he turned towards Terry and took his sunglasses off in a fluid, Caruso-like motion that told Terry everything he needed to know about what this man thought of himself.

“You’re the guy, right?”

“Yeah,” Terry said. “I’m the guy.”

“Great. Here’s the story. Name’s Jack Package, right? You know why they call me that? Most renowned package in all of New York. This bitch?” He held up a picture of a middle aged woman who clearly hadn’t maintained herself as well as Package had. “She didn’t respect that. Went out and found herself another package. I divorce her, she gets half my shit. That’s fine, but I’m not gonna let her go without a little present. I like that you deal in cash, I like that you do your business on Craig’s List. It’s old school. Well, new school, but old fashioned. You know what I mean? Of course you do. Again, here’s her picture.” He slid it across the table towards Terry. “She’s in this bar every night, if that helps.” He slid another piece of paper, the bar’s Yelp! page, across the table. “And this is her home address.” Another piece of paper to join the first two. “Anymore questions?”

“Hold on,” Terry said. “I don’t do women.”

A silence, punctuated by three smacks of Package’s gum. “You what?”

“I don’t do women. I should have clarified, I’m sorry.”

Smack. Smack. Smack.

“Is this a negotiation tactic?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Then what? You’re mother taught you to respect the girls? You’re too much of a gentleman.”

“Sure, whatever you want, I just don’t do women.”

Smack.

“I’ll tell you what.” He pulled an envelope from his pocket and slid it over to Terry. “Two thousand dollars. Final offer. And just let me assure you, this woman is a grade A bitch.”

Terry stared at the envelope containing of two thousand dollars for only a few seconds. Then he took it and put it in his pocket.

“Good man,” Package said. He shot Terry a finger gun and got to his feet. “See you never.”

On that note he left without even paying for Terry’s coffee.

Later that night, Terry sat in a bar in a SoHo and waited for Package’s woman to arrive. When she showed up she came straight for the bar, and ended up sitting right next to Terry. She nodded at him when she first sat down and he nodded back. For a while after that she was quiet.

Then, after a couple beers, she turned to him and said, “So?”

“What?”

“What’s your story? Why are you sitting in here all alone?”

He shrugged. “Nowhere better to be, I guess.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, me too.” She took a long swig and said, “So what’s your name, kid?”

“It’s Terry.”

“Terry. That’s a nice name. I’m Eileen.”

“Eileen. Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” He paused, contemplating. And then decided to press ahead. “What about you, what are you doing in a dive like this?”

“Oh, baby, this isn’t out of the ordinary for me. Around here, I’m a regular customer.”

“Oh yeah? Live around here?”

“Yeah, pretty close, my loft is right around the corner.”

“I always kind of thought lofts were a young person’s game.”

“You calling me old?”

He grinned. “No, ma’am. Not a day over thirty.”

“You’re too kind. It’s rare to meet a boy with manners anymore, you know. Maybe it really is nice to meet you.”

“I certainly hope so.”

“The loft is temporary, by the way. I’m in a… state of transition.”

“Between what and what?”

She waggled her left hand. “You see a ring on this finger?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, a couple months ago, you would have.”

“What happened?”

She scoffed. “What happened. How long you got?”

“I’ve got a few more beers in me, I think. Go ahead.”

So she went ahead. She told him about the years she’d spent married to Jack Package, whose real name turned out to be Edmund Gray. Told him about what a scuzzball he was, her words, and how he’d cheated on her, and how she’d finally mustered up the courage to leave him. Then she asked him his story, and he told it to her. Keeping his last name out of it, of course. In the end, he didn’t keep much else out of it. He told her about the army, and about getting shot in the foot. She called him a hero and put one of his beers on her tab. Like old friends, the two talked into the night until last call came and he offered to walk her home. She accepted, graciously, and had to lean on his shoulder the whole way back to avoid falling over.

When they got upstairs he laid her in bed, and watched over her while she fell asleep. After that he stared at her for another ten minutes at least, watching her try to sleep the years and the pain away.

Terry could still feel the envelope in his pocket.

He walked to her, leaned over, and punched her once in the eye. That was it. A black eye would appease Package and in the long run wouldn’t cause her too much pain.

After she didn’t wake up, he leaned over Eileen again and kissed her once, softly, on the lips. Then he took his exit.

Although the ad had been deleted, he worked through the rest of the messages on his phone over the next few months. By the time he was done with those, his network had established itself. Everybody he did a job for told at least one person, and everybody had somebody they wanted to see taken down a notch. Business came and went in a relatively steady flow, picking up over the holidays when lonely people saw their acquaintances getting a little too happy with their picture perfect families, and dropped off a little in the summer, when even the petty seemed in better spirits, but for the most part it was constant.          The events of the night he spent with Eileen were much more telling of how the next few years would go than the first night with Hutz had been. Sure, sometimes it was just a knockdown on the street, but more often he would find them when they were alone and try to find out who they were. Try to take a piece of them for himself as he left them bleeding on the ground.

Over that time his life moved in two different directions, and at equal speed. His quality of living went up. He found a small place in the East Village that suited him well, and he started eating better, but in the end it was the same. In the end he was watching television on a bigger screen but he was still alone on the couch, and the years of taking were wearing him down. He couldn’t maintain a relationship with a woman; for whatever reason, the only time he could open up to people was when he knew he’d be making them bleed in a matter of hours, or minutes. And his family pitied him, he knew; poor Terry, no career, no future, and on top of all that, he was sent home from the army in disgrace. He knew they all felt that way, no matter how many times he insisted he’d been wounded in combat. It wasn’t worth arguing. They were right on most counts, anyways.

Terry’s last call came on a Friday in autumn, when the leaves in the city just starting to turn orange and fall from the trees. He was walking down a sidewalk that was coated with them, kicking them aside, when his phone rang.

“Hello?”

“You’re the guy who hits people?”

He confirmed, and made an appointment to meet the guy at a little diner on the Upper East Side. The next day, the man showed up as planned as sat down across from Terry.

“You’re Mr. Smith?”

“That’s right,” the man said as he pulled out several papers and laid them onto the table. He pointed to each of them and he described what they were. “Here’s the money, here’s a picture, here’s the name of a park where this guy sits, every night, from mid-afternoon until well after dark. That’s all the information I have on him, I don’t know his name or where he lives.”

“That should be enough,” Terry said.

“Good. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got a prior engagement.”

“Not at all,” Terry said, and motioned for the guy to leave. The man obliged. As he stood, Terry thought he noticed something familiar in his face, and the way he walked, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Just to be safe he took a good long look at the photo before him. He didn’t recognize this man at all, and decided the other had been a coincidence. Terry tucked the envelope of cash into his pocket, ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoyed his lunch.

At about eight o’clock that night, after the sky had grown dark, Terry drove to the park listed in the address. He parked a couple blocks away just to be safe and walked the rest of the way. As promised, there was a man sitting on a bench in the middle of the park. Terry could spot the glow of his cigarette, an orange period in the otherwise run-on night, from a long ways off, and once he got closer was able to confirm that it was the man from the photo. He took a seat next to him, nodded at him, and began staring out at the park. Within a minute he heard the man rummaging through his coat; when Terry looked over, he saw that the man was offering him a cigarette.

Terry accepted. The man lit it for him, and Terry took a long drag. It was the first smoke he’d had since high school; something about tonight seemed to demand that he give it another try. He tilted his head back and let the smoke leak out from between his lips in a strong, unbroken stream.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Oh, no problem. You looked like you needed it.” The man took a drag of his own and released a stream of smoke easily twice as thick as Terry’s. “So what’s your name?” he asked. “What brings you here?”

“Name’s Terry. I’m here because… Well, I guess it just seemed like a good night for a walk.”

“Nowhere better to be, huh?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know the feeling. I’m here pretty often myself. I don’t know, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch the world do its thing. What do you do when you’re not here, Terry?”

“Nothing much, these days.”

“Those are pretty nice shoes for a man who does nothing.”

“Well, nothing worth saying, anyways.”

“Life’s gone and lost its passion on you?”

“Guess you could say that.”

“Well what did you used to do? Before you started doing nothing.”

“I was in the army,” Terry said. “I got shot in the foot during a tactical raid. They sent me home with honor, but people just laugh when I tell them what happened. They think I did it myself or something, by accident. Think I was jerking off with a gun in my free hand and pulled the trigger too hard, or something.”

“That’s a damn shame. And you, a hero.”

“Don’t know if I’d call myself a hero. Never did much that was heroic, and did a lot that was less than heroic, so…”

“Still, you served your country.”

“Guess that’s true.” Another long drag. “What about you, what’s your name?”

“Donald.”

“And what do you do, Donald?”

“Same as you, anymore. Nothing.”

“What did you used to do?”

“I was in college for a while. Yale. I rowed crew there for a couple years, but eventually the classes got to be too much and I dropped out. It was a pretty big embarrassment for my whole family, so I don’t see much of them anymore, and now it’s just a whole lot of this type of thing.”

“Whole lot of nothing, you mean?”

“Yeah, whole lot of nothing. Whole lot of thinking about the time that I thought I was gonna be somebody.”

They sat in silence for another few monents, two lost men in a dark night, both smoking their cigarettes and both thinking about the time that they thought they would be somebody.

Eventually Donald got to his feet and said, “Well, I should probably be getting on my way.”

Terry stood too, and said, “Yeah, I probably should as well.”

Moving towards Donald, he drew back his fist.

The gunshot lit up the night, for a half a second turning it back into day, into one of those long ago days before Terry shot himself in the foot and Donald dropped out of school, one of those long ago days before the world moved on and left them behind.

Then the darkness returned. When it did, it found Terry lying on the ground clasping a hand over the whole in his stomach and staring up at Donald, whose face he could only just make out.

“I… I…” Gasping, he tried to lift his head.

Donald kneeled beside him, laid a hand on his forehead, and pressed gently until Terry was once again flat on the ground.

“I know,” he said. “I know, it hurts. It’ll be okay, it’s over now. It’s over now.”

“Who…”

“His name was Brandon Hutz. He’d been trying to find you for a long time. Almost stopped looking, he told me, until one of his friends mentioned someone like you in a conversation. I’m surprised you didn’t remember him. I never forget the faces of my marks. Although in your defense, I take things a little further than you. That’s how you make the big bucks.” He smiled. Inside of it was a bottomless wealth of grief that Terry could have lost himself in had he not already been losing himself to the night, slipping away through his fingers now matter how hard he tried to hold himself in.

“How…”

“How what?” Donald asked, turning his ear to Terry. “Come on, you can do it.”

“How much?”

That same sad smile returned. “Five thousand dollars,” he said.

“Jesus,” Terry chuckled, wheezed. “I think… I was…”

“Was what?”

“In the wrong… market.”

“Don’t worry,” Donald said. He brushed a strand of hair of Terry’s forehead, opening his field of vision to the full scope of the treetops and the stars under which he lay dying. “I’ll stay with you. I’ll stay with you until it’s over.”

Terry nodded. He wanted to grab Donald’s hand, to let him know he wasn’t angry, to tell him that they were the same, but he didn’t have the strength.

He could feel himself splitting in two. Half of him was running away into the night. The other half, Donald would take with him when he left. That half was comprised of the pieces he had taken from people over the years. That bit of Eileen’s soul, which she had given to him in a bar long ago. The piece of the high school Senior who had thrown a game, which he had taken over a friendly game of pool in a club back in 2010 before beating him senseless in a back alley. The piece of Brandon Hutz, which had finally come full circle.

And another piece, only slightly larger, comprised of Terry’s memories of the war and of long ago lovers and of outings with his mother, and of the time when he still could have been somebody before the world moved on and left him behind.

*

As an aspiring writer, Shay Hatten has written three novels, several screenplays, and dozens of short stories. One such short story was recently published on TheFictionShelf.com, and a screenplay, titled Another Life, currently resides on Amazon Studio’s, Notable Projects list. As well as an avid reader and aspiring writer, Hatten is an active environmentalist and has taken multiple trips to Mexico to aid in Sea Turtle conservation. More information can be found at ShayHatten.com


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2 responses to “April 18th: The conspiracy
Beating
, by Shay Hatten”

  1. Rhoda Vanwassenhove says:

    Cool ^^^

  2. HelenaM says:

    He kind of had that coming


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