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by Copper Smith

The thing nobody tells you about getting shot is how long it takes you to die.

I’m not talking a straight shot to the skull, head snapping back and to the left all Kennedy-on-Dealy-Plaza-like and lights out seconds later, but a bullet from a novice shooter, carving away at your insides for hours and hours. With Kandy standing there, arms crossed and eyebrows arched like she’d warned me before or something. Blood pooling away from my abdomen and the strength needed to climb to my feet already gone.

It doesn’t just hurt, it hurts everything. And it hurts everything for way too long. A violent throb rattles my limbs and my spine and my head as I reach for something, anything, I don’t know. If I could talk without blood getting in the way, I’d say something to Kandy because I don’t like the look on her face, that this-hurts-me-more-than-it-hurts-you look. But I wouldn’t know where to start. So I just fall back with a groan that empties me out, eyes at the ceiling until Kandy steps closer and aims that gaze at my soul like an ice pick.

But I still haven’t faded out completely. I can hear her say something but the words don’t work. She warbles like Charlie Brown’s teacher until a tilt of my head brings her voice into focus. Suddenly that soft Louisiana whine makes sense again. “Because here’s the thing, Devon. This wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the second or third. This is who you are, goddamn it. And I only wish I could have figured it out sooner.”

She goes on, but I’m looking past her now, past the rusted light fixture above her and into a beacon in the distance. It flashes at a creepy rhythm, irregular and weirdly passionate like it’s talking or waving me closer or laughing at my dumb ass for cheating on a girl who packed a snub-nosed 38.

The rest of the room dims and the beacon takes the shape of a face. It might be Jesus or the devil. Or maybe grandma or my third-grade teacher or that goddamn dog that ran in front of my ’81 Mazda on I-94. It’s getting closer, but too slowly. And I can’t make sense of what it’s trying to say because Kandy’s screaming now, all red-faced and raw like she might send a second bullet to my head to finish me off. I’m begging she will because the pain is twisting me into an involuntary dance. And I want this dance over. But Kandy likes the dance just fine. So she just keeps screaming. “This is what happens, Devon! This is what happens to you when you don’t listen to anybody but your own voice!”

I don’t know what she means. But thanks to that badly aimed bullet, I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out before the beacon floats over me and takes me somewhere else.

Copper Smith lives in Minneapolis and writes pulpy crime fiction. His work has been featured in such venues as Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey and Pulp Metal Magazine.

His Jake Legato Private Investigator series is available on Amazon and he blogs at AuthorCopperSmith.com. Check out his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCopperSmith/.