A Gift by B. R. Stateham

“Smitty, I . . . I need your help.”

The voice was barely a whisper. It came from a man lying in a bed with sheets soaked with sweat and stained with blood. He was a muscular, dark complexioned man. Gray had begun to stain the dark curls about his temples giving away his true age. Blood drenched the bandages about the man’s chest, streaming into the sheets and pooling about the 9 mm Heckler & Koch automatic lying beside his right hand and his iPhone.

On the small lamp table beside the bed were two empty bottles of scotch, a cheap first-aid kit, and a roll of fresh bandages. A sawed off pump action shotgun leaned against the wall within grabbing distance.

A dark-eyed, neatly dressed figure stood beside the bed. He whispered softly, “Has someone taken a look at that wound?”

The man in bed coughed, then said, “Naw, naw . . .Can’t take the chance.  I took a hell of a chance calling you. If they tapped into my phone, or tapped into yours, they’ll be showing up in a couple of minutes to finish the job.” He paused and coughed again. “And maybe that’d be a good thing.  I dunno.”

“Let me get you someone to look at the wound.  I know someone you can trust.”

“No.  No.  Listen, Smitty.  I didn’t call you over here to save my ass.  I know I’m a goner. I screwed up.  I know I shouldn’t have challenged Bruno.  Shouldn’t have demanded he step down as capo and have me replace him.  I’ll take what’s just due to me.  But . . . but . . .”

Downstairs in the cheap flophouse for a hotel, Smitty thought he heard the sound of footsteps creeping up the stairs.  Glancing at the door quickly and then back at the man lying in bed he lifted a finger to his lips.  The wounded man blinked a couple of times, looked at the hotel door fearfully, and grabbed the 9 mm off the sheets.

Smitty shook his head no and silently motioned the man to stay quiet. Slipping to the door, he placed his ear close and listened. Satisfied, he opened it and glided into the hallway, slipping against the wall like a ghost the dark. He stole across the third floor hall to a wide stairwell disappearing down to the second floor of the building. It was from there he heard the stealthy approach of footsteps. Someone did not want to be heard.

A thin snarl played across Smitty’s cruelly handsome face. In one smooth motion, both hands dipped into his sport coat’s deep pockets. His right hand grasped a long barrel-shaped object, while his left reached for a 9mm model 92Fs Berreta.

He screwed the suppressor onto the end of the pistol and leaned against the wall, waiting.

Two men neared.  They were dressed in cheap suits and dark shades. One held a shotgun, the other, a big Dan Wesson .357 caliber revolver. They glided up the stairs in stealth mode. At the top, they turned left without hesitation and started toward the wounded man’s room.

It was their mistake. Their last mistake.

From the shadows, Smitty whispered, “Looking for someone?”

Before the men had a chance to turn, Smitty opened fired. Pffft! Pffft!

*

It didn’t take long to depose of the bodies.  Down at the end of the hall was a utility closet. He stuffed both bodies into the cramped space. Then, he unscrewed the fire suppressor from the Beretta and dropped it into a pocket before holstering the weapon underneath his right armpit.  He walked back to the hotel room, and knocked once before opening the door and stepping in quickly.

The wounded man was as pale as the sheets he was lying on.  The bandage around his chest had a fresh gleam of blood seeping through it.  Sweat covered his brow.  He was in bad shape, and if he didn’t see proper medical treatment soon Bruno wouldn’t have to send out another team to finish the job.

Smitty said, “Come on, we’re leaving this place. I’ll put you away somewhere where Bruno can’t find you.  We’ll get a doc to look at the wound.”

“Smitty.  Smitty.  Don’t worry about me . . . I need you to do something.  Something that means everything to me.”

“I know what you want, Tony.  I’ll take care of it.  After I get you to a safe place.”

There was no arguing.  Smitty lifted the wounded man out of the bed, placed his arm over his own shoulders, and then half carried the man down the three flats of stairs and exited the building through the rear door of the flophouse without anyone seeing them. Two hours later, Smitty watched as an acquaintance of his, an old man who had retired from the practice of medicine, calmly re-bandage the wound. The doc said Tony would live.

Smitty knew why Tony had called. Knew and understood the fear that burned in Tony’s heart.  Tony was a father.  Had a daughter living in another city.  A daughter he had not seen in ten years.  A daughter he loved more than life itself.

The problem was Bruno also knew Tony had a daughter.  Knew it and was going to torture his rival with the knowledge before killing her. Bruno was that kind of guy. Kill your rivals. Your rival’s loved ones. Your rival’s pets. Eradicate everything. Make a statement for everyone to ponder just in case someone else might be considering taking over the family.

Annabel was twenty-five. She had long black hair, even longer legs and a constant smile on a pair of lovely lips. She lived by herself in a small college town where she was attending a nursing school. Tony made arrangements with the school to offer his daughter a full ride scholarship.  Annabel never suspected.

*

Smitty sat in a SUV at a semi-deserted street corner, watching the young woman with the flowing black hair dive into one small shop after other. Annabel was loaded down with shopping bags and not paying attention to anything or anyone around her.  It was a Saturday and she wasn’t home studying.  Wasn’t aware of the two big men following her—big men with dead eyes, five o’clock shadows, and conspicuous bulges protruding beneath their sports coat. They were intent on following the young woman. Unaware they were, in turn, being watched themselves.

Bruno was also unaware of being watched.

*

Bruno, a leer on his face, watching his men tail his rival’s offspring, sat in the back of a Lincoln town car and anticipated his men nabbing the girl and bringing her back to him. He was so going to enjoy himself presenting her to her father.  So enjoy slowly working her over with an ugly looking boning knife as her father watched gagged and roped to a chair in a warehouse where no one would hear the screams.

Bruno sat in the back of a Lincoln town car, a leer on his face, anticipating his men nabbing the girl and bringing he back to him. He was so going to enjoy himself presenting her to her father. Enjoy slowly working her over with a boning knife as her father watched gagged and roped to a chair in a warehouse where no one would hear the screams.

*

After a quick glance in the rear view mirror, Smitty slid out of the rented SUV and quietly closed the door. He pushed a hand underneath the lapel of his sport coat and trotted across the street towards the white Lincoln.

He approached the left side passenger door, opened it and slid in, the Berretta and its suppressor already attached in his hand. He fired twice. One bullet buried in the back of the head of the driver, the other bullet in the forehead of the bodyguard in the front passenger seat. Pffft!  Pffft!

Smitty swiveled and aimed the ugly business end of the Beretta at Bruno’s face. Bruno, stunned, turned white as the car’s exterior. His eyes, big as plates, stared directly into the hole of the 9 mm, and then glanced towards the cell phone in Smitty’s left hand.

Smitty said, “Call your boys off, Bruno.  Tell’em it’s time to go home. Tell’em you’ll meet them back at the clubhouse tomorrow night. Call’em, Bruno.  Call’em if you want to live.”

Bruno grabbed the phone and dialed a number frantically. Bruno barked orders to the thug on the other end of the line. Twice. Hurriedly.  Emphatically.  Insistently.

Smitty watched the two thugs stop in their tracks, look at each other in confusion, then turn to look back at the white Lincoln. One man shrugged and the other shook his head as they stepped off the sidewalk, crossed the street, leaving Annabel completely. They walked into a local pub, presumably for a beer or two before leaving town.

Bruno said, “There.  There, I did it.  Now get the hell out of here.  I did what you asked.  You live up to your side of the bargain.”

Smitty nodded and smiled. “Oh, I’m sorry.  I misspoke.  I should have said, make the phone call and you might live.  Sorry about that.  I’ll have to be more careful next time.” He pulled the trigger. Pffft!

Opening the passenger door, Smitty exited the Lincoln and walked back toward his rental.  As he did, he looked over his shoulder to take a last peek at Annabel.  She was kneeling now, the many bags of her shopping spree scattered on the sidewalk.

Then he saw something that surprised him. He saw a petite child, her arms outstretched, long black hair blowing in the breeze, run out of a shop and gleefully fling herself into her mother’s arms.

Smitty grinned. He’d be bringing good news.  Tony was a grand father.

*

B.R. Stateham is a sixty-five year old curmudgeon who never grew up.  He’s been writing stories, covering a number of genres, for most of his lifespan.  And who knows?  Maybe someday he’ll be discovered as the mystery genre’s  ‘Next Amazing New Talent!’  Yeah, right.

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