Saturday, August 3, 2013

Issue #57 -- August 2013

By AJ Hayes
The reporters and cameramen circled Carmody like a flock of crows harrying a hawk. They darted forward and back, shouting questions at him that echoed off the gray stone walls of the courthouse. He kept his head down, occasionally glancing up from under his hat brim to slide his stare over them all.

His eyes resembled those of a bird of prey – shiny golden colored coins that could watch you die without changing. His reddish brown topcoat flapped around his large body as he entered the waiting limousine and closed the door.

“Take me home, Buzz,” he said to the driver.

The silence inside the car made the ringing in his ears louder. He shook his head abruptly.

“Everything okay, Boss?”
“Yeah, damn tinnitus again. Keep your eyes on the road.”

He sighed softly, plucked a phone from his jacket pocket and punched in a number. The pearling ring helped to distract him from the toneless chiming in his ears.

“Hello,” the voice was deep, roughened by a whiskey rasp.


“Yeah, I got something for you.”

His guts clinched.

“I just finished the last one,” he said.

“Here’s the deal,” the raspy voice said.

Carmody listened, then nodded.

“Okay,” he said, “Saturday.”

He leaned back into the cushions and sighed again.

“You sure you’re okay, Boss?”

“Just get me home,” Carmody said.

Damn I hate this job, he thought. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t the best there ever was at it.

In his ears, the tinnitus was getting louder.


Bobby lifted his arms above his shoulders.

“Now,” he said.

Pete, his assistant, let the shirt fall.

The smooth rush of red and white striped silk felt good. Let the other guys wear plain old cotton if they wanted to— silk gave you the edge. He slid his legs into jeans that had been washed so many times they were a kind of no color at all. Motion, that’s where it was at: no restrictions or tightness, just the feel of well-worn denim. High-topped tennis shoes laced all the way up fit his feet like Italian glove leather.

“Wind me up,” he said.

The yellow canvas of the apron felt good on his waist as Bobby spun into its embrace. Pete held the strap tight and buckled it quickly, then stepped back with his hands held high.

Outside, the crowd noise grew louder, running like surf down the concrete halls and into the locker room.

“Show time,” Pete said, slipping the tray straps over his friend's shoulders.

Bobby shrugged the straps, heavy with the weight of the paper-wrapped peanut bags that the tray contained, into a comfortable fit. He felt the weight of the rolls of change in the apron pockets bump against his upper legs.

“Let’s rock,” he said.

Pete pushed open the locker room door and watched his friend walk up the concrete hallway and out into the stadium and the noise of the crowd.

Bobby’s voice bounced echoes off the cement, “Red hots! Goobers! Get chur PEANUTS here!”

The words echoed down the corridor and bounced off the cement— lost in the sound of the Saturday afternoon baseball game.


Carmody settled into his seat. The woman in the space next to his glanced at him and, with a small murmur of what might have been sympathy, slid a little to her right before turning back to the field. Her eyes never found his face. She only saw the metal brace extending from his right knee down the lower part of his stiffly extended leg. He allowed himself a small smile.

People never see Dumpster divers, beggars or cripples. His year at the Actor’s Studio had taught him a lot—though he had not used the information for the purposes his teachers had expected.

On the pitcher’s mound the new district attorney, rail-thin and tall—with a mop of unruly hair that made most women who saw him want to brush back from his forehead—threw out the first ball. The pitch was straight and fast, smacking into the catcher’s glove with a pop. It was not surprising; the DA had been a first team All-American at Harvard. He flashed his famous grin, toothy and white, waved at the stands and left the field.

Carmody relaxed and watched the players take their positions. It would happen after the seventh-inning-stretch. After the traditional “Take Me out to the Ballgame” had been sung, it would be quiet for a few seconds.

Then it would not be.


“HEY! Getchur Red hots! PEANUTS here!”

Bobby’s voice penetrated the sea-surf sound in the stands. He watched the heads turn toward him. It was the usual mix of fans: regulars, occasional game goers and kids.

The season ticket holders smiled at him.

“Hey, Bobby,” they called, “what’s the score?”

His back to the field as usual—he never watched a game, it hurt too much—

Bobby answered them high and bright.

“Who cares, the show’s right here.”

He rolled a couple of peanut bags up his arm, over his shoulders and down the other arm in a fast fluid motion.

“Gett’um while they’re hot,” he said holding the bags aloft.

The once-or-twice-a-year-we-go-out-to-the-game families, faces bright with anticipation, looked at him and the kids squealed in delight.

Only one figure in the seats that looked out of place. An old guy sat at the end of a row. His leg, encased to the ankle in a large brace, stuck out into the aisle.

Poor guy, he thought, do I know how those things feel. He grimaced as the memory of sliding into second and the shattering pain in his ankle that ended his dream.

After months of rehab and sweat and a series of such braces, he had been almost as good as new.


Just a fraction of a second slower. A few feet shorter on his throwing range.

Good enough for single A ball. Almost enough for double A. Not enough for a triple A club. A million miles away from the majors.

His right ankle clicked and a lance of pain shot up his leg.

“Hey Bobby, shoot a couple my way,” a regular yelled down from the last row up.

“You got it, buddy.”

His fingers plucked two bags from the tray and his arm swung in an arc speeding the paper-wrapped missiles on their way. They flew straight and fast, directly at the face of the man, then, at the last second, lost velocity and softly fell into his outstretched hands. The fan laughed closing his fingers over the bags.

“Nice shot, Bobby,” he called. “Now it’s your turn.”

He stood and brought his arm up and over, putting his shoulder into the motion, and a spread of quarters glinted in the sunlight—one, two, three, four, Bobby’s hands flashed, picking the coins from the air effortlessly. He smiled. He could always count on the regulars to start the show.

“Hey Mister,” a kid’s voice, “here, Mister, here.”

“Pull your pocket open, kid,” he called, miming the action with his own shirt.

The bag soared high and fell directly into the target.

Astonished eyes and gaping mouth on the kid’s face.

Childish laughter as Bobby plucked the collection of pennies, nickels and dimes the boy threw from the air.


“Hey Peanut Man, over here!” Another bag airborne, seemed to bend around a support pillar in the middle of the seats.

And so it went, bags streaking fast and straight, curving and fading, dropping into pockets and hands and ball caps held out eagerly.

You’re the best there is they called.

The best there ever was, he answered silently, hands busy and body moving, proving it.


Carmody watched the game and the peanut kid’s act. The boy was good at his show and the crowd was in his pocket.

He nodded in satisfaction. Between the players on the field and the peanut man in front of them, nobody would remember the gimp in the eighth row.

He stood up and slowly climbed the steep steps leading to the mezzanine. The metal angles of the brace dug into his leg making his limp more pronounced.

He was ten steps away from the top of the stairs when a hand cupped his elbow.

“Here sir,” a voice said, “let me help you a bit.”

He resisted the sudden savage urge to spin and slash with a hard-edged hand. He swiveled his head to look at the source of the voice. The peanut guy— with compassion in his eyes. He let the kid guide him to the top of the stairs.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem.”

The kid looked him full in the face, their eyes meeting, then turned away. He stared at the kid’s striped shirt as he walked away. Nice guy, he thought, too bad he saw my face. He limped across the corridor toward the bathroom.

The restroom was empty – that was good, no one to see or remember him. He entered the stall farthest away from the entrance and sat down. He took a small screwdriver from his pocket and began to disassemble the brace on his leg. It had served its purpose. No one questioned a handicapped senior citizen—or looked too closely at them. He had been allowed to walk around the metal detectors at the stadium gate, waved on by impatient security guards. All they would remember would be the brace. They would recall nothing about the old man attached to it.

The work went quickly and in five minutes the brace had become something else. He made a few final adjustments and made his way slowly out the exit.


“Hey, Bobby,” Pete said, “Refills already? Man you’re killin’ ’em today.”

“Every day, man, every day,” he answered absently.

His mind was still on the old guy with the brace. The guy’s eyes bothered him. They weren’t like Bobby’s eyes had been in the mirror every morning. There was no trace of pain in them, no doubt or fear. They reminded him of the python’s eyes at the zoo, emotionless and calculating.

“There you go, my man,” Pete’s voice intruded, “Nuts and change. End flaps open just like you like them.”

He handed Bobby several rolls of quarters and nickels with the end folds opened and a roll of dimes wrapped tight in hard plastic cylinders.

“Sorry about the dimes, that’s the way they came.”

“Damn it, Pete, you know I like them loose. How can I put on the show if I can’t get the change out fast?”

“Sorry pal, that’s the way they all came in, besides you don’t use ‘em in the act anyhow. It’s all quarters and nickels with you.”

“I guess,” Bobby said, “but I still—“ a roar from the stands ran down the concrete. “Screw it,” he said, “I gotta get back. Don’t want to miss the seventh, for sure.”

Bobby hurried up the supply corridor and out onto the main mezzanine, just in time to see the old guy emerge from the restroom. The leg brace was gone and in its place the man leaned heavily on a long crutch. It looked like the same tubing that had made up the brace. Maybe it was a convertible device that snapped into a crutch, he thought, like one of those canes that blind people carry— the ones that with a flick of the wrist convert from a six-inch baton into a five-foot cane. Yeah that must be it. When the brace gets too uncomfortable, you just press a button or something and it converts to a crutch. Bobby hurried down the steps and faced his fans.

“All right, all right, I’m back. Did you miss me?” He juggled four bags of nuts with one hand.

“Hey peanut man, me, me, me!”

Bobby spiraled two bags high and soft into a kid palm and plucked kid-flung quarters from the air. He looked at his section, from the lighting and speaker tower on the upper rim of the stadium to the front row of seats, three feet away from him and smiled. This was his place, his crowd.

“Hey Bobby,” a home-team-shirted regular called, “what’s the score?”

“Who cares,” he called back, sending a bag curving toward the man.


Carmody glanced left and right, then opened the service door he had jimmied with tape on his check out run, the day before. Slinging the crutch over his shoulder he began to climb the rungs in front of him. It was the fourth inning and the game was going slowly. Plenty of time. He opened the door at the top of the ladder and threaded his way though the steel legs and wandering cables of the lighting array. At the edge of the structure was a four-foot retaining wall. He duck-walked to its shelter and sat with his back against the rough blocks of it.

Using the small screwdriver, he made the final conversions to the crutch. Its last metamorphosis was into something much more than either of its previous forms.

From his jacket pocket he took three spheres. They looked like the popular candy called Jaw Breakers. It was an apt name. They were that and more. Sabot rounds— the Marines called them Tank Busters— three-quarter-inch balls of hard plastic filled with quarter-inch buckshot. When the round struck a hard surface— like armor or bone—the plastic blew a small pit into the hardness and the buckshot followed, expanding as it went. The rounds rested in a tubular magazine at the bottom of the skeletal weapon.

When he tapped the trigger once the first bullet would be on its way, the second would follow a milisecond later. The third was a backup. It wouldn’t be needed—he never missed.

The result would be an explosion of bone fragments and gray jelly and blood over a twenty-foot circle. He smiled a bit, allowing a small warmth of satisfaction to run through him. First the DA and then his attractive fiancée.

The voice on the phone had said the boys wanted it messy and very public to discourage the next politico who had the balls to challenge their hold over the city.

Messy, they wanted. Messy, they would get.

The crowd had finished "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and the usual quiet filled the stadium.

The DA leaned across and said something to his companion. She laughed in response.

Carmody looked down. The peanut vendor was plying his trade, the bags flew though the air and quarters flew back. No danger of the kid seeing him, he was too absorbed in making the throws and retrieving the coins.

The rappelling rope was coiled against the farthest tower leg from him. Escape route ready. Over the side and down the outer wall. Blend in with the fleeing crowd.


He slid the aluminum-wrapped steel of the barrel over the edge of the wall and lined up the front sight on the center of the DA’s forehead. He exhaled a soft sigh and his finger gently tightened on the trigger.

His tinnitus was silent.



“Hey, Bobby! Up here!”

A voice from the very top row, one hundred upward sloping feet above him. A white-haired woman with a red-flowered blouse. Better sight this one exact or it’ll fall short. Wouldn’t want her to lose her balance reaching for it.

He let his eyes find the pillar on his left then moved them up to his aiming point on the lighting array above. Throw calibrated, he dropped his vision to the woman again.

Okay, he thought, grab the bag and—wait a minute.

There was something wrong. He looked quickly back at the lights again. Above the short wall at the edge of the tower, a face. The old guy with the brace/crutch—and something else. A long tube poking over the ledge. It looked like a…a rifle barrel.

Holy shit!

He got it in a flash. He knew, without looking, who the target was. The DA had been in the papers, something about racket busting in the city.

He looked for help.

The eyes in the stands were all turned to the DA— who was grinning and waving at the crowd— and his pretty, redheaded friend.

No help.

No time.

Up to him.

Bobby’s hand jammed into the pocket of his apron and came out in a flowing over-handed motion, releasing its contents smoothly. Four rolls of quarters spread in an arc of brown-paper projectiles speeding toward the rifle barrel.

His hand dipped again and several cylinders of nickels followed a heartbeat later.

He followed through; his body bending at the waist, feet planted solid and arm extended.

Perfect form.



The ends of the quarter rolls, already loose, burst open a few feet from the face and the gun, scattering silver around them. The nickels did the same, except for one roll, which hit the shiny tube, deflecting it.

“Help!” Bobby screamed, plunging his hand back into the apron pocket.

Heads spun toward him. Eyes sought the source of the sound.


Carmody startled as something struck the barrel of the gun just before the final ounce of pressure on the trigger was complete. He thought someone was shooting at him as a sparkling shower of small objects that glinted in the sun fell around him and his ears were filled with a musical tinkling.


Someone was showering him with quarters and nickels.

He heard a yell and he saw the peanut vendor looking up at him, hands in the pockets of his apron, reaching for more ammunition. Faces in the stands directly below him were starting to turn upward.

His mind went automatic: eliminate the problem, then complete the job. The DA could wait a moment.

Sorry kid, but I would have had to come back for you anyhow.

He moved the sights to the center of the vendor’s forehead and stroked the trigger.


Bobby saw the barrel deflect as the old guy looked wildly at the shower of coins falling on him. Then, with a deliberate smoothness the long tube steadied and swung toward him. His blood ran cold and hot at the same time and tingles of fear raised the hair on his arms.

He’s after me now.

His fingers scrabbled desperately in the canvas pockets of his apron. The roughness of it scraped the nerve ends in his fingertips like bits of bone. They closed on something— a slippery, hard cylinder.

The roll of plastic-wrapped dimes.

He scooped it out and put everything into the throw. All his talent, everything he knew from all the years of wanting, all the summer nights of double A and all the dreams of greater things.

The cylinder flew, arching fast and hard toward the assassin. He saw a flash from the end of the gun and then he saw nothing.


The powder ignited and the three-quarter inch plastic ball was forced down the barrel, quickly reaching its 1600 foot-per-second terminal velocity. It picked up rotational spin from the rifling grooves on the inside of the barrel and would exit the end of the barrel straight and true, impacting on its target in an unstoppable burst of deadly force.


The roll of dimes encased in their hard plastic wrapper measured exactly .700 of an inch—five hundredths of an inch smaller than the bore of the barrel.

It was enough.

The roll entered the hole at the end of the barrel and wedged tight, blocking it.

The plastic ball hit the dimes and did its job. The plastic punched a hole in the first ten dimes and released the buckshot, scattering, white-hot in a deadly spray. Which exploded the barrel and sent the pressure of the still-detonating gunpowder back the way it had come.

With any other round, the barrel might have simply burst—deafening Carmody and maybe blowing off a finger or two. But this was a Tank Buster and very good at scattering metal. The shot exited the torn tube that had housed it, caromed off the metal structures surrounding Carmody, ricocheted in every direction.

Three of the quarter-inch balls, jagged and flattened from ricocheting off the steel tower legs, hit him in the face, leaving large holes to mark their passage. The breach of the gun, blasted apart by gas pressure and the explosion of the other two rounds, finished the job the shot had done.

Carmody stood for a moment, teetering and headless, then his body fell backwards.

Messy, bloody— and very public.


Bobby felt a warm trickle down his face from his forehead. Something wet was in his eyes and his head ached as though a spike pierced it. He wiped at the wetness and saw smear of scarlet on the back of his hand.

A face floated into his field of view, one of the old-timers. The lips were moving on the face but Bobby could not hear anything.

Then he remembered.

The old guy with the strange eyes, the gun, the muzzle flash—something hitting his head, hard.

A bullet? Was he dead?

The silence in his ears was replaced by a sharp ringing which gave way to a fading hum and then he could hear.

“Thank God. He’s alive.”

“Give him some room, let him breathe.”

Then, “I’m a doctor. Let me through.”

Cool hands on his head, in his hair, probing gently, the warm trickle stopping.

“Only a surface cut. It must have lost most of its velocity before it hit you. You’re going to be fine, young man.”

Bobby sat up, eager hands helping him.

“It?” he said.

“This,” the doctor said holding out his hand. Something in his fingers twinkled, reflecting the sunlight.

Bobby took the object from the doctor.



A dime.

Bent and scorched.

“That was quite a throw young man. Straight up the barrel of that rifle. Quite a throw.”

Bobby felt the headache diminishing, releasing its tentacles of pain. He managed a weak smile.

“Of course,” he said. “I’m the best ….”

He stopped and thought a long moment.

“I’m the luckiest guy there’s ever been,” he finished, smiling.

AJ Hayes lives in Southern California and admires the citizens of that particular patch of crazy a lot. They are a never ending source of WTF! Fiction is an art that puzzles him but – against the advice of friends and family – he keeps trying.


  1. Absolutely outstanding piece of writing AJ. You had me in the moment from the get-go. The set-up was first class and although yes, I could see where you were taking me, I was just happy to be along for the ride.

    Bobby the showman is my hero of the week.

  2. Thanks Graham. I'd rather be lucky than good any time.

  3. It takes AJ to write something as relentless and tight as
    this. With its steadily building tension this is as lean as a sirloin steak.

    1. Right you are Godfather Godwin, but righter still our writer sells the sizzle with his steak.

      ~ Absolutely*Kate,
      a regular in the peanut-gallery

  4. Thank you, Richard. High praise from a master always chuffs me up.

  5. Why am I not surprised you nailed this perfectly, AJ?

    From the excellent characterization to the exact tension build-up, you sucked us into the worlds of these two self-proclaimed 'Best' guys, pitting good v evil in a totally original and engrossing manner. The detail and delivery were top-notch too, bud.

    It's way time that you showcased your talents more widely in a collection. I, for one, will be primed and ready to devour it.

    Top class writing, sir.


  6. Thanks Col. you know how much your words mean to me, mate.

  7. Well take me out to the ballgame and buy me some redhot -- AJ/Clyde storytelling arc'ing its triumph right on target -- outta the ballpark on target.

    "You’re the best there is they called."

    Yeah. I call it too.
    Everytime your time outta time words are so apt at their up to bats. Big fanfare from your peanut gallery, Author Man.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate,
    admiring Aces who do more than nickel with their dimes

  8. Loved it AJ. Especially the details and tension at the end. Kept me on the edge of my seat. A one-in-a million throw from the Peanut Man.

  9. Thanks Katie Mae. Glad a walkin' talkin' baseball encyclopedia like you thought it didn't leave me standin' there with my bat on my shoulder starin' down the steeeeeroike three pitch.

    Thanks Travis. Makes me feel good when one of my LA homies likes my stuff.

  10. A perfect short story. It has it all. A flawed hitman. A waiting but unlikely hero. AJ's usual adeptness for sucking in the reader had me right there in the crowd. Awesome.

  11. Thanks Daz and Paul. Your words count with me.

  12. AJ, I think it's the best you written so far. Perfect imagery. A flawless set up. Really top notch!

  13. Thanks, BR. Compliment indeed coming from you, buddy.

  14. Great story... combines two of my favorite things, baseball and crime fiction. more tension here than a no hitter going into the 9th. You are on top of your game here Mr. Hayes!

    Bill Baber

  15. Thanks so much, Jane and Bill. Compliments from pros like you both mean more than a lot.