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by Paul Heatley

The pavement is warm beneath me, but the stars above shine bright between streetlamps. The people on the sidewalk have stepped back. They stare, can’t look away. They’re watching me die.

Duff is there. Duff has killed me. The gun is in his hand, still smoking.

The girl is to my right, on her knees. Her name is Nico.

Short for Nicola.

She is laughing.

We’ve just met, right here in front of this noisy neon club, music spilling from its open doors. She was smoking. I shouldn’t have stopped. I was on my way out of town. She had a pretty face. I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face.

“Those things’ll kill you.”

She cocked an eyebrow.

“Think I could get one?”

She thawed, passed me the pack.

“It can get lonely, smokin by yourself.”

“I’ve never minded.”

“I don’t suppose you’re ever lonely.”

She was taller than me in her heels, her long body clad in a tight black dress that clung to her hips and chest. I had to get moving, get off the street, but she held me entranced. “Sometimes I am, sometimes I ain’t. What do you know about it?”

“All I know is, I see a beautiful lady out smokin by herself, somebody oughtta be smokin with her.”

“That someone’s you?”

“Right now there ain’t no one better or worse.”

She smiled, showed some teeth.

“What’s your name, darlin?”

“Nico. Short for Nicola.”

“Nico sounds exotic.”

“My dad always called me by it. Shoulda stuck it on my birth certificate.” She finished her cigarette, flicked the butt, lit another. “What do they call you?”

“They don’t call me nothin as pretty as Nico.”

We were flirting. The kind of flirting where we knew it was going to lead to someone’s bedroom. Or car. I had a good feeling. Then I saw Duff.

Saw all five-foot-four of him, storming up the sidewalk, his blonde dreadlocks swaying wild, held out of his face by a black bandana. His top left incisor was gold and he had a habit of sucking on it, and this twisted his mouth all out of shape. When he reached me he spoke as if Nico wasn’t there. “Yo. The Man’s been trynna get hold a you, son.”

“He just needs to pick up the phone.”

“He done picked up the phone.” His lips smacked. “You ain’t answerin.”

Nico looked back and forth, eyed Duff up and down. Wore that same unimpressed expression she flashed me when I first approached.

“I left it in my other jacket.”

“That so? Mighty careless a you.”

“We all have our moments, right?”

“The Man says you havin too many. Says your drop-offs have been light.”

“And I told him, it ain’t my fault if his boys are short.”

Duff smiled. “’Ceptin they ain’t short. He stopped trustin you, man. He started makin some calls. Askin questions. He didn’t like the answers.”

I knew I was fucked.

It ain’t like the movies. You don’t get a chance to talk your way out of it. Either you accept you’re fucked and fight it, pull out your gun and start shooting, or you wait for the other guy to pull out his.

I didn’t have a gun.

The bullets hit me in the chest. Three of them. The fall was slow motion. I hit the ground, ears ringing, and I can’t hear a damn thing. I look at the stars. I look at the people. I look at my killer. He’s leaving now. No one tries to stop him. I look at Nico. There’s blood on her face, flecks of it on her teeth. She looks like she’s laughing, but it’s a scream.

Paul Heatley’s stories have appeared online and in print for a variety of publications including Thuglit, Horror Sleaze Trash, Crime Syndicate, Shotgun Honey, and Flash Fiction Offensive. He is also the author of The Motel Whore & The Other Stories, Guns, Drugs and Dogs (both published via Amazon), An Eye For An Eye (Near To The Knuckle) and, most recently, Fatboy (All Due Respect). He lives in the northeast of England.