Reflexes by T. Fox Dunham

“Well take it easy, Butch,” I told him, holding back my hand.

Humans shouldn’t touch other humans—just damn sentimental.

“Sure Frankie.”

He reached out for my hand and grabbed it like a wrestler, like The Dark Wasp, a wrestler I used to go see with my dad when the bell rang at the slaughter house. Butch’s hands felt like frying hamburgers.

One thing I remembered about this putz, he hates goodbyes, farewells and so longs—probably got left off at Saint Mary’s Orphanage on 3rd street when his whore of a mother decided he was bad for business. Butch’d probably suck my thumb if I let him.

“I’ll catch you when I’m in town next month,” I told him, trying to break the circuit, find the note to close the curtain. My heater was in easy access in my jacket pocket, just a little gun is all you needed. I do my shooting up close so they knew it was me. My gun itched. My pointer finger itched. I wanted to put this sorry son-of-a-bitch down. Couldn’t though. The skipper would have my lungs on a platter.

“Fine,” he slobbered out his hot dog lips. “We’ll get something eat.”

Butch just kept wagging my hand.

“Sure. Sure. Say hello to that nice wife of yours,” I told him. His hand was like shaking a cow’s hoof while it was on the line about to be knocked by a sledgehammer. My dad put me on the line when I was eleven, giving cows a good smack to the head. It got me into the business.

“I will. She remembers you from the wedding. Calls you that nice looking fellow in the pin stripe suit. You’d look better in white, handsome like me.”

He whacked my shoulder with his free hand, felt like he was slapping it with a dead albacore. He must have put on fifty pounds this summer. He’d left the smoking stub of a cigar on a paper napkin at the table that had this week’s payment in it. He’d rolled up the dough and stuck it into his pocket like it was his and he wasn’t kicking it upstairs. I hate guys who acted like they were bosses. He was just rat like me.

“Don’t you have a train to catch?” I said.

“That’s the thing about trains. There’s always another one sooner or later. I’m in no hurry to get home. Philly is a hot hell berg, nice and warm. It’s fucking Iceland in Buffalo. Maybe I should make a move down here.”

Butch was just holding my hand now like we were waltzing. Maybe we were going steady.

“Butch. You’ve got a cab waiting. They rig the meters when you’re not watching, hold down the fare button. It’s only a couple of bucks, but it adds up.”

Butch shook his head.

“I never heard that,” he said.

I shrugged.

I didn’t want to hurt the guy, not that he didn’t have it coming. I was sure he was the one that did Mickey. Sure Mickey had been holding back on his tax, but to shoot him down like that in a church then steal his clothes so a nun finds his bare ass waving in the aisle like he was some kind of pervert? And killing Butch would bring nine kinds of hell down on my head.

He just gripped my hand with sausage fingers, and my water pressure built.

“Well you’re right. I should be off.”

“Take it easy, Butch. Seeing you is like old times again.”

I relaxed my grip, and he started pulling his hand away. Then he took hold again.

“Any good cheese steaks places open this time of morning?”

My knee jerked on reflex. I got him square in the nuts. I hate people who can’t end a goodbye—people with abandonment issues, insecure and looking for approval before they leave a conversation that they were amiable.

He dropped my hand, pressed it to his water tower gut, groaning like a an old dog with a broken back. He pulled out a piece from his jacket pocket, but I was already waiting with mine. I was surprised he was still standing in that kind of cramping agony.

“Goodbye,” I said.

My father had been a runaway driver for the Irish Republican Army, come to America to escape the G-men. They called him damh—Gaelic for ox. God had given him a good heart, noble spirit, but he got no brains; so he couldn’t figure out how much pain a good heart and a noble spirit were going to cause him. Without much gray matter upstairs, his head was good for a punching bag, so he came to America and started in the ring, the lower rings, the minors. He’d let them beat on him for awhile, wait till they got tired of punching a cement commode, then he’d strike with a few sharp jabs. He opened a slaughterhouse when he got too old for prizefighting.

He always told me, “Frank, it’s reflexes. You can’t think. Your body has to fire off like a spring, instant.”

The shot burst Butch’s neck, and blood whipped out like a waving flag, the pressure spraying it onto a table of nuns nearby. One of them shrieked. He dropped to his knees, falling to the floor, his head hitting the table leg. His hand clutched my shoe. The poor bastard was still trying to hold onto me. I felt kind of bad for him.

Because I was a gentleman, I didn’t steal his suit.

I grabbed the roll out of his pocket. Four thousand. It wasn’t much, and it had to last me. There was no way I was going to make this right with the skipper. I almost regretted shooting him.

As I jogged out of the King Henry Rose Hotel, I tossed a twenty at the nuns.

“For the kids in the orphanage.”

I passed by a set of long legs, drinking coffee at a table in the front dining room. She disguised her hand in gloves of red silk and black, frilly spider webs. She eyed me up like a cut of steak as I ran by, focusing on my collar where Butch’s blood soaked through to my skin, itching a bit.

She sure had long, smooth hands.


T. Fox Dunham lives outside of Philadelphia, PA, better known to his friends as Fox— his animal, spirit guide. He’s a cancer survivor, historian and author, published in magazines and anthologies. Previously he had work published under the name T. Joseph Dunham. He also plans events on Second Life and has an internet radio show on Saturday nights. He is currently working on his first two novels: The Last Elf, a dark fantasy set in the Third Reich and a novel, semi-auto biographical about his battle with cancer at the age of eighteen. Fox: Wrecking civilization one story at a time.


2 thoughts on “Reflexes by T. Fox Dunham”

  1. Great use of punchy, unexpected and jarring metaphor here. I will be sure and keep my handshakes brief in future!

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