By Wilson Koewing
Jason Walker opens his eyes. A heart monitor beeps. Tubes run from his wrists, nose, and mouth. Harsh light assaults his eyes. A doctor blurs into view.
“Mr. Walker, you’ve been through quite an ordeal. Your carotid artery was severed by a bullet. That bullet is still inside your head, pushing against the artery, holding it together. Remarkably, it’s the only thing keeping you alive.”
“Where are my daughters?”
“I don’t know,” the doctor says. “There’s a detective here.”
The doctor leaves. The detective approaches.
“I’m Detective Drake.”
“We don’t know yet,” Drake says. “Mr. Walker, do you have any idea who might have done this? Do you have any enemies?”
“Enemies?” Jason says. “No, I’m an architect.”
“What about your wife?”
“My wife’s dead.”
“I know that,” Drake says. “I’m sorry. Did she have any enemies?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did your wife do?”
“She ran a nonprofit that advocated for affordable housing.”
“I’m sorry to be blunt, Mr. Walker,” Drake says, “but someone shows up at your front door, shoots your wife, then shoots you, and you know nothing?”
“It’s all blank.”
“If you remember anything give me a call.”
Drake hands Jason his card and leaves.
As the door closes, Jason sees Drake approach a man he recognizes as one of the gunmen. Seeing his face, the events of the night flood back.
Jason chases his young daughters, Lilly and Paige, around the living room. Paige holds a Barbie. His wife, Alice, stands by the kitchen island drinking wine, preoccupied with her phone.
“Honey, how long ago did you order the pizza?” she asks.
“Should be here any minute!”
Jason labors into the kitchen holding the wriggling girls.
“Everything okay?” Jason asks.
“The other bidder on the lot is trying to bully us out of the deal.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” Jason says. “It will work out.”
“I don’t know,” she says. “These people are relentless.”
The doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it,” Alice says, heading toward the front door.
The girls cheer the pizza’s arrival.
A shotgun blast rings out. Jason turns toward the sound. Paige’s Barbie falls to the ground. Alice’s wineglass shatters.
Jason pushes the girls behind the bar and sprints to the foyer.
A masked gunman runs into him. They struggle.
Jason is able to pull off the gunman’s mask before the butt of a shotgun knocks him out.
When Jason comes to, Paige and Lilly are tied up and being forced to watch. A combat boot is to his throat. The gunman points a pistol and fires a bullet into Jason’s brain.
Jason disconnects the tubes and gets dressed. His head is covered with a thick bandage.
He peeks out of his hospital room. He waits for the elevator. He approaches a nurse’s station on a different floor.
“Can you help me?” Jason says. “I’ve forgotten the doctor’s instructions.”
“Of course,” a nurse says. “What’s your name?”
The nurse accesses his file.
“I understand why you forgot,” she says. “You should be in bed, Mr. Walker.”
“I have to get out of here.”
“One moment,” she says entering a room behind the nurse’s station.
Jason waits nervously.
The nurse returns with a bottle of painkillers.
“Take these as needed for pain,” the nurse says. “You need water and rest, Mr. Walker. You’re in a delicate state. Any head trauma and you could die instantly.”
She scans Jason’s file, growing more concerned.
Jason is gone.
He staggers away from the hospital and pops a painkiller. He stumbles into a gas station and grabs a water. He approaches the cashier.
Jason searches his pocket for his wallet, but it isn’t there. He looks up at the cashier with crazed eyes then falls, knocking over a display.
The cashier rushes around the counter and helps him up.
“Just take the water, man.”
Police tape covers the door of Jason’s home. He kicks at it, but it won’t budge, so he crashes through with his shoulder. The house is trashed. He grabs his wallet from his drafting table then hears the beep of an incoming text. He looks around, confused. He finds his wife’s phone on the bookshelf, just out of sight.
He’s forgotten her passcode but can see a message from an unnamed number on the notifications screen: We’re getting that lot one way or another, Mrs. Walker.
Before he leaves, Jason rips a family portrait from the wall, breaks the glass, grabs the photo, and puts it in his pocket.
Jason stands at an ATM. A wheel spins on the screen as his request processes. The machine spits out bills that Jason stuffs in his pocket.
Jason stalks the city streets. Seedy bars, strip malls. Detroit remains in sharp decline. Undesirables litter sidewalks and alleys.
He approaches a twenty-four seven pawn shop glowing dull in the distance.
A bell dings as he enters. Fluorescent lighting. The city squeezes in from the outside.
A clerk stands behind a glass case of knives and handguns.
“I need a gun,” Jason says.
“Will any gun do?” the clerk snickers.
“That one.” Jason points at a snub nosed .38.
The clerk produces forms and places the .38 on the case.
“Fill these out,” the clerk says. “Obviously there’s a waiting period.”
Jason grabs the .38.
“That’s not going to work.”
“This isn’t that kind of place.”
“Don’t you have anything for someone who…doesn’t want to fill out paperwork?”
Jason places cash on the counter.
“Sir, I can’t help you. Now get the fuck out before I bash you one.”
“Listen, shit bird,” Jason says. “You see this bandage?”
“Doorbell rang, wife answered, shotgun blast,” Jason says. “Before I knew it, there’s a bullet in my brain.”
Jason grabs the clerk by the collar and pulls him close. “And it’s still in there.”
The clerk pushes Jason back.
“Sad story, friend.”
“I’m leaving with a gun, one way or another.”
Jason pushes the .38 to the clerk’s forehead.
The clerk cocks a shotgun and points it at Jason’s stomach.
“Mine’s loaded,” the clerk says.
Jason pulls the trigger. The clerk flinches but doesn’t fire the shotgun. Jason drops the gun on the counter. His gaze is drawn to a jet-black motorcycle helmet on a shelf.
“How much for that helmet?”
Jason walks across the parking lot carrying the helmet.
“Hey, you,” the clerk stands in the doorway holding out a card, “Call this number, mention the clerk.”
Jason calls the number.
“The clerk said to call.”
“Fifteen, Old Park Way. Come alone.”
A cab driver’s eyes dart between the road and Jason.
“Fifteen, Old Park Way?” the cab driver asks suspiciously.
Jason glares at him.
“Prick,” the cab driver says under his breath.
Jason watches the passing streets. Cold concrete. Dark figures in shadows. Decrepit buildings. Barrel fires.
The cab drops Jason outside of a run-down warehouse. The giant brick void melds into the night. Broken windows reflect dim moonlight. Downed power lines dangle over puddles.
Jason moves through shadows. Water drips from pipes. He ascends stairs, navigates a dark hallway, and enters a makeshift living area in the middle of a large open space. A mangy mutt lies before a wood burning stove.
A hulking man places various pistols on a table. They look like toys in his hands.
The mutt growls.
“He doesn’t like you,” the hulking man says.
“I need a pistol.”
“You get right to the point.”
He hands Jason a .38 snub nose.
“Deadly at close range, accurate enough from mid,” he says. “Won’t jam on you and you get off five shots pretty quick.”
Jason awkwardly holds the gun.
Jason spins the chamber.
The hulking man hands Jason a box of bullets. He loads several backwards.
“Might want to turn those around.”
Jason loads the bullets properly, then flicks his wrist and the chamber locks.
“Your money is no good here.”
Jason stares at the gun in his hand.
“The other cot is yours if you need a place to stay,” the hulking man says before disappearing into the shadows.
Illuminated by the fire from the wood-burning stove, Jason climbs in the cot. He pulls out the family portrait and gives himself over to sleep.
Jason arrives at his wife’s nonprofit office and peers through the door. Not a soul. Her death must have afforded everyone a vacation. He covers his hand with the sleeve of his jacket and punches the glass. The door shatters.
Jason enters the office and sees Alice Walker on a placard. Family photos. Overtaken, he sweeps everything from the desk onto the ground with his arm.
Gathering himself, he notices a newspaper clipping taped to the computer monitor.
Jason reads the article: Local real estate magnate Dalton Westlake to bring designer fashions and high-end boutiques to central city as small businesses/proposed affordable housing projects fall by the wayside.
Glass bottles are lined up deep in the bowels of the abandoned warehouse. Jason readies to fire. The hulking man watches, polishing a gun. Jason fires off a round. Hits nothing.
“Reload, what are you waiting for?” the hulking man says.
Jason reloads. Fires off another round and again hits nothing.
“Pull, don’t squeeze.”
Jason reloads, fires, and misses.
Jason reloads, fires off two shots, hits nothing, drops the gun to his side.
“Aim at each bottle then close your eyes,” the hulking man says.
Jason begrudgingly aims at each bottle then closes his eyes.
“On the count of three, shoot the bottles,” he says. “One, two, three.”
The hulking man fires in unison with Jason, the bottles explode one by one.
Jason opens his eyes, amazed.
Jason eats noodles from a pot listening to the rhythmic scraping of a brush against steel. Fire crackles in the stove. The hulking man cleans a gun.
“Dalton Westlake is a powerful man,” he says.
“A powerful man with answers,” Jason says.
“How can you be so sure?”
“It’s all I’ve got.”
“I had a wife once, too,”
“Let me guess,” Jason says, “she didn’t think this was a suitable place to raise a family?”
“Murdered,” he says. “Couldn’t get me, so they took what was most important to me.”
“What did you do?”
“I killed my pain away.”
Jason stares up at a skyscraper.
Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, he watches security guards usher visitors through metal detectors.
He wanders around the building until he finds an alley to hide his gun in.
Past security, he finds Westlake Real Estate Group on the building map. The elevator climbs to the fortieth floor. The floor is plush. An intricate fountain. A lone receptionist behind a desk.
“Dalton Westlake,” Jason says.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No one sees Mr. Westlake without an appointment.”
“I’m curious about his current projects,” Jason says. “I’m a fan of the mall job.”
“Oh, are you an investor?”
“Mr. Westlake provides a portfolio for potential investors,” she says. “It chronicles current projects and future plans.”
“I’d love to see his plans for the future.”
The receptionist produces a folder.
“What happened?” she says, referring to Jason’s bandage.
“I was shot in the head.”
Jason smiles at the shocked secretary and leaves.
Jason steps out of the elevator into the lobby. A man brushes past. Jason catches a glimpse.
It’s the masked gunman.
Jason follows him outside into the streets. He stops at a newspaper stand. Jason sprints down the alley to retrieve his gun.
Emerging back into the street, there’s no sign of the gunman. Jason turns a corner and spots him climbing into a black Chrysler.
Jason hails a cab.
The Chrysler turns down an alley. Jason watches the gunman enter a shop and return with two briefcases.
The cab follows the Chrysler through traffic. Eventually it stops at a gentleman’s club.
Jason follows the gunman inside.
“Wait here,” he tells the driver.
Inside, lights flash, illuminating dark figures. Music blares. Women dance and offer lap dances.
Jason notices the gunman slink behind a curtain.
A woman approaches Jason. “What’s your name?”
He ignores her.
“Well fuck you.”
Jason sits at a table. A cocktail waitress approaches.
“What can I get you?”
“There’s a one drink minimum.”
“I’ll have a water.”
“There’s a one alcohol drink minimum.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Jason says.
Jason watches her whisper to a bouncer and point in his direction.
She returns with a rocks glass.
“What is it?”
“J&B,” she says. “Looks like you could use it.”
Jason takes a long sip. His vision blurs. He pops a painkiller. The music pulses. The dancers. The faces of the men. Money floating in the air. Strobe lights. It all blends together, making Jason woozy.
He snaps out of it, noticing the gunman scurrying out.
Back in the cab. Rush hour. Jason watches passing cars. People heading home from work. Families. Everyone in a hurry.
The Chrysler slices through slow traffic just ahead.
“Don’t lose him.”
The cab pulls up to a construction site on the outskirts of the city. Two cronies with shotguns stand guard in front of a trailer. The Chrysler is parked outside. In the distance, the sun sets behind skyscrapers.
Jason observes from behind piles of construction materials, his head protected by the motorcycle helmet. He moves closer, taking cover behind a bulldozer before maneuvering to the side of the trailer, only a few yards from the cronies. He points his gun and steps into the open.
“Drop your guns.”
“Who the fuck are you supposed to be?” one crony says.
Jason’s finger slips on the trigger and blood splatters the trailer’s wall and the helmet’s visor.
Jason is shocked by what he’s done.
He wipes at the visor, but it smears. He fires the gun wildly and misses. The crony tackles Jason to the ground. Grabs a steel pipe and swings it as Jason fires up. The crony staggers and falls, the empty space he leaves revealing the Westlake Real Estate Group skyscraper in the distance.
Jason rolls under the trailer and struggles to take off the helmet. The trailer door swings open and the gunman steps out. He picks up one of the shotguns.
“Come out,” the man says. “Fight like a man, not a rat.”
Jason scampers from under the trailer and takes out his legs. The shotgun slides away. In the melee, Jason drops his gun.
Jason jumps on the gunman and chokes him. The gunman knocks Jason off, landing a punch to the head. Jason stands wobbly. There’s a moment of recognition from the masked gunman before he hurls a brick at Jason’s head.
Jason ducks out of the way.
“You,” he says. “Why wouldn’t you die?”
The gunman dives for the shotgun. Jason tackles him. They struggle. The gunman gets free. He freezes hearing Jason’s gun click. He’s within reach of the shotgun.
“Why’d you do it?” Jason says.
“It’s my job.”
“Killing my wife?”
“No, scaring her was my job,” he says. “Killing her was my pleasure.”
Jason kicks the gunman under the chin and sends him rolling onto his back, but closer to the shotgun.
“You chose the wrong job.”
“Fuck you,” the gunman says, slowly reaching for the shotgun.
“Who sent you to my house?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “You’ll never get to him.”
“Say the name.”
“Go to hell.”
Jason shoots a bullet into his thigh just as his hand reaches the shotgun. He screams out in pain.
“Say the name.”
“You’re going to die, you stupid bastard.”
“Not before you.”
Jason shoots him in the chest then stands over him, barely breathing, struggling to speak.
“Say it,” Jason says.
Jason deposits one more bullet in his brain, then searches him for a phone. He uses the guy’s fingerprint to unlock it. Searches the contacts. He pops a handful of painkillers and starts walking. The phone rings in his ear.
A voice answers, “What is it?”
“Not what,” Jason says. “Who?”
“Who the fuck is this?”
“The guy you should have finished off when you had the chance.”
Jason hangs up and walks toward the black shadows and the steel trees of the concrete jungle. Hunting Dalton Westlake.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work is forthcoming at Hobart, Wigleaf, Oxmag and Gargoyle.