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Enough Rope To Hang Themselves: (A Short Story)

Updated on January 26, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Some motel on a cacophonous highway. Night-time. Drab but clean room. Single occupant: a man. The man: stretched; twisted and turned; found a way to crack every knuckle in his body. Releasing nervous energy.

Over to the mirror above the wash-up sink. Run a comb through dyed-black, slicked-back hair. Toothpick in the mouth. Getting into character.

The most important part of his ritual was the conversation he had with the mirror.

Pretending his reflection had spoken first, it said, "Are you him?"

The real McCoy said, "Him who?"

"The man I'm supposed to see," his reflection said. "whose gonna solve a problem for me."

"I solve problems," the man said.

"That's good."

"What's your problem look like?"

Client should tell him or give over a picture.

"What's his name?"

Client should tell the name.

"What do you want done, exactly?"

Sometimes you get a talkative type. "Why are you a hit man?"

"Why is there a Seven-Eleven?"

"I don't get you," said the reflection.

"Its convenient," the man said. "Do you go in there and say to Habib: 'Hey, how come you're here, preventing me from schlepping another ten miles to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and cigarettes'? No."

The man wasn't a racist. The crack about Habib is just something his character would say.

"You're convenient?" the reflection said.


"How much?" the reflection said.

"Depends on what you want done."

"I want my problem gone---permanently."

"Fifty thousand."

Sometimes a guy will hesitate.

"Not a penny less. Or do it yourself or shop around."

The man calls out a mic-check. Loud and Clear comes the response on the other end. His partners. The unseen members of the team.

A knock at the door. An elderly-sounding, feminine voice calls out. Open the door to a granny in her seventies. Gray, stringy hair. Too much make up around the eyes. Flower-print Moo-Moo dress. Name: Lucinda Ball.

The man's make believe name: Ralph Parker: hit man for hire.

Hi, how're you doing?

Very well, thank you.

Won't you come in?

Thank you.

Fumbling around. Pleasantries of an awkward sort. Then down to business.

She wanted her husband of twenty-five years dead. Not hurt. Not beat up. Dead. No reason given.

What's he look like?

Lucinda gives over a picture. Name: Arnold Stubben Bell. Age: 73 Occupation: City bus driver, retired. No children. Description: Full head of fluffy white hair; five-eight; build: on the rolly polly side; horn-rimmed glasses.

When do you want it done?

She gives him a specific date and time.

Where will you be?

Four states over to the left, visiting relatives. She asks how much.

Twenty-thousand. Need at least a down payment in advance. When do you want to meet to make the pay off?

I will pay you ten-thousand now and the rest upon completion.


She is ready with ten thousand in cash. Surprising. Didn't seem like a woman of means.

She gives him the money. Business concluded, the plan set. She makes ready to leave.

Cops bust in. Guns drawn. Shouts of Police.

Down on the floor, Granny. Arthritic hands behind your head.

Damn! Hope she didn't break a hip. Jesus!

Pats on the back. Congratulations all around. Bagged another one.

Back to the station. Fill out paperwork. Book 'em, Dan-o.

Decline invitation to go out with other cops for steak and beers. Got to get home.

Go home. Its late. Ease on in the quiet house. Look in on his two sleeping kids: an eight-year old boy in one room; twelve year old girl in another room. Light kiss on the forehead for each.

Into the master bedroom. Wife sound asleep. Had told her not to wait up. She had had no intention of doing so. Off with his clothes and into bed. Careful to stay on his side.

Balmy seventy degrees outside. This bed felt like a frigid twenty-below.

Get up the next day and do it again.

Beautiful day in the neighborhood. Birds singing. Children laughing. Not a cloud in the sky. School's out for the day. And the weekend is upon us.

Sitting in his truck. In the parking lot of a supermarket. The whole town's hittin' the joint for supplies.

Looking in rearview window. Pretending the reflection had spoken first, it said, "Are you him?"

The real McCoy said, "If you got a two-legged problem, I am."

Reflection said, "I got one of those."

"My specialty," the man said.

Once in a while you get a talker. "You any good?"

Channeling his inner Clint Eastwood, the man said, "You want references?"

The client laughs nervously. What a dope I am! Self-deprecatingly.

"What's your problem look like?"

The client should either tell him or give over a picture. He might even throw in some weak justification.

The man is nonchalant, like it don't matter to him. As long as the money's green. "When and where?"

"When and where do you want it done?" the man said.

The reflection-man tells him when and where.

The man asks the client where he will be when it goes down.

Five states up, visiting family for the holidays, the reflection-man said.

"Now, what exactly do you want done?"

"I want her dead," reflection-man said. "I don't care how you do it. I want her dead."


"Do you mind killing females?" reflection-man said.

"Not as long as she's over twenty-one," the man said.

"You don't have to worry about that," the client said. "Look at that picture. She hasn't seen twenty-one in a long, long time."

"Good. Then she's lived a full life. My conscience won't bother me."

"You... you have a conscience?"

"Sure," the man smiled. "Mine's just more flexible than most people's."

Rehearsal over. The man calls out a mic-check. Loud and Clear comes the response from his partners. The unseen members of the team.

Appointment here. Surfer bum. Had his surf board with him. Leaned it against the side of his truck.

The man didn't like the surf board leaning against his truck. But he let it go.

Door opens. In comes a bronzed golden boy.

Are you him? golden boy asks.

Yeah, I'm him. What's your name, partner?

Steve Hamilton.

Steve Hamilton: mid-to-late twenties; brown hair with blond highlights. Spiky. Well-muscled, swimmer's body. Hawaiian shirt---open. Speedo shorts.

The man didn't like all that skin on his upholstery. But he let it go.

What can I do for you, Steve?

He said he never did anything like this before.

Like what, Steve?

Steve starts talking. Steve is a talker. Speech patterns suffused with words like 'Dude,' 'Bro,' 'Bummer,' 'Totally,' 'Like,' and so forth.

The man interrupted. Yelled at Steve. Straightened him out. Made him talk right English.

I want you to kill my former best friend whose boning my girlfriend.

Easier to get a new girlfriend and best friend, the man pointed out.

Steve shook his head. She's my soul mate. And my best friend's a bum.

You think you have only one soul mate? the man asked.

Whose side are you on? Steve asked.

Calm down, kid. I'm on your side, of course. I just want you to be happy. Really I do. I want to be sure that this is really what you want to do. Because once its done, there's no going back.

I know my own mind, Steve said.

Okay, the man said. When and where?

Steve told him.

Where will you be?

Five states to the right, for a cyber security seminar.

I need payment in advance. At least a down payment.

How much?



Thirty-five thousand.

Okay, let's meet right here, same time next week. I'll have the full thirty-five thousand for you then.

Cyber security must pay good. Alright.

See you then.

Sounds good.

Nice meeting you.

And you.

Steve got out of the car, grabbed his surf board, and got going. Nobody made a move on him.

Nice kid. Hope he changes his mind. Shame to see what happens to a golden boy like that, faced with thirty years in prison.

Go home. Late but kids still up. Daddy! Daddy! Hugs and kisses.

Did you have a good day at school?

Yes, they said in unison. Daddy! Read us a story, please.

You two should really be in bed. Its late.

Please! In stereo.

Did you finish your homework?

Yes. Two times.

Eat all you vegetables at dinner?

Yes. Times two.

Did you brush your teeth and wash your faces.



Okay, a short one and then off to bed.

Yaah! they said.

Find some leftover something in the fridge. Grab a beer and watch some television. A Perry Mason movie.

Off to bed. Next to an indifferent woman. On a cold bed on a hot night.

Get up the next day and do it again.

Sitting on a bench in the park. Feeding the birds with bread crumbs. Waiting.

He focused on one of the birds. Pretending that the bird could speak it said, "Are you him?"

"More than likely," the real McCoy said.

Client at a loss for words.

"What's your problem?"


"You two-legged problem," the man said slowly, pregnant with deeper meaning.

"Yeah... yeah."

"What does he or she look like?"

The client should either tell him or give over a picture.

"So... how'd you get into this line of work?"

"I've always been in this line of work. At least for all of my adult life."

"You always been a hit man?"

"Yeah but the government didn't call it that at the time?"

"Former special forces, CIA or something?"

"Yes to both, as well as the 'or something.'"

"So you're pretty good at what you do."

"I should hope so."

"Well... well..."

"Look," said the man, "the price is fifty-thousand. I need at least a down payment in advance."


"You can swing the total?" the man asked.

"I think so. Not a problem."

That was it for playtime. The man called out a mic-check. Loud and Clear came back over the radio of his hidden recording device. The wire he was wearing. His team. The rest of the members of the team, unseen.

Client arrived. Second meeting. Woman in her early-thirties. Goth-style. Tatoos. Jet-black hair. Bulky jewelry. Looks like Morticia Adams. Name: Julie Cleaver. Background: College educated---Ivy League; wealthy family---Old Money. Occupation: Tattoo artist and DJ of a Classic Rock radio station.

Problem: Her rich, sickly mother who keeps on living year after year. Critical of all Julie's choices. Not least of which, her husband: member of a biker gang (Its a social club of people who like to ride motorcycles, Julie amended) and drug dealer (pharmacist, actually, Julie had said).

My mother's threatening to disinherit me, Julie had said that first time, and cheat me out of my birthright.

Julie gave over the money.

Cops swarmed around her. Shouts of Police.

Down on the ground. Hands behind your head. You're under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder. Read her, her rights. Book 'em, Dan-o. Haul her off.

Next time do it again. Waiting indoors again. Decent room in a decent hotel.

Waiting. Releasing nervous energy. Run the comb through the slicked-back, dyed-black hair. Toothpick in the mouth. Getting into character. Talk to the mirror above the wash up sink.

Reflection said, "Are you him?"

"I think so," the man said.

"Your name Ralph Parker?"


"Your real name?"


"That the truth?"

"Sure. Don't you trust me?"

"Can I trust you, Mr. Parker?" Sometimes you get a talker.

"What's your name, by the way, buddy?" the real McCoy asked.

The client hesitated.

"Just make up something I can call you," the man said.

"Uh... uh.... John Sm--, uh, Brown. John Brown."

"Ah, " the man laughed. 'My name is John Brown, ask me again and I'll knock you down.'"

"What?" reflection said.

"Nothing. Just something from the Little Rascals. You know, 'Our Gang.'"

The client is too young to remember The Little Rascals.

"You can Google it," the man said.

"Google what?" the reflection said.

"The Little Rascals." The man was playing with him.

"Yes, well... Uh, look here.... I..."

"Okay, Okay," the man said. "What's your problem look like?"

The client should tell him or give over a picture.

"What do you want me to do to him. Maim, mutilate, cripple, or kill?"

The client cleared his throat. "The last option."

"Which option is that, John?"

"Kill," he said softly.

"I'm sorry?" the man said, cupping an ear.

"Kill, Mr. Parker. I want that goddamned, wife-stealing, embezzling business partner of mine in the ground."

"When and where?" the man said.

John Brown told him when and where.

"Where will you be?"

"Three states to the north."

"Doing what?" the man asked.

"I haven't decided yet."

"Oh well, I'm sure you'll find some way to amuse yourself."

The man knocked it off and did a mic-check. Loud and Clear came the response from his team. Unseen.

The client ran late. An hour later he showed up. A knock at the door.

Open the door to a good-looking guy. White, bald, tanned. Tiny earring in left ear. Muscular but not overly bulky.

They stand there looking at each other. Silent.

Aren't you gonna say it? the man said.

Say what? the visitor said.

Are you him? the man said.

I know you are, the visitor said. I followed my friend's instructions to the last detail and they lead me here. You must be the man. May I come in?

The man stepped back and waved him in.

Since all that's out of the way, the man said. Let's get down to business.

Yes, let's, the visitor agreed.

What's your problem look like?

The visitor gave a description.

What do you want me to do to him?

Why, kill him, of course, the visitor said. Its the only way, I'm afraid. The visitor seemed remorseful.

When and Where? the man said.

The visitor smiled. How 'bout here and now? In a single motion, he whipped out a gun and shot the man in the stomach.

The man crumbled to the floor, still alive. "What?... What?" The pain was unbelievable.

The visitor followed at a leisurely pace as the man tried, futilely, to escape.

"I'm a cop," the man said.

"Oh yes, I know that. That's what she told me."


"Your wife, when she asked me to kill you."

"You... you'll... never... get away... never get away."

"You mean your friends down the hall?" The visitor smiled.

"Help..." he coughed blood, "officer down, help."

"I'm sorry but I should really tell you. Your friends aren't coming."

The man coughed blood.

"You see, around three o'clock your friends got hungry and ordered a pizza. Well, I intercepted the kid with the pie. I made the delivery. I'm afraid pizza is not what they got after all."

The man kept crawling. Coughing blood. Trying to hold the hole shut in his stomach. The visitor came over and knelt down.

"You see, your wife and I have been having a thing for some time. We're in love. By the way, she wanted me to give you a message. Something she wanted me to tell you on the way out. She said to tell you that as for you and she: Its over!"

At that moment, a woman dressed in black, busted through the door with a gun drawn. Silencer attached. She went up to the visitor, who was kneeling on the floor. Put three quick bullets in his head.

She stood, looked at her husband clinging to life.

Die already, she said, shooting him in the chest.

Now he was dead.

She planted a little cash. A little heroin. An extra gun. Made it look like something drug-related. Position the bodies. Press a gun into her husband's hand.

Tableau arranged to her satisfaction. Time to go.

Off to pick up the kids from daycare.

The End.


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    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thanks, Mark Lees!

      First of all, thanks for the tip about the 'flash fiction' definition. I am changing the subtitle right now.

      Second, thank you so much on your kind words about my little tale. I will consider it a compliment to have this piece compared at all favorably with the work of Raymond Chandler. I shall have to take my own advice and 'Google' Walter Mitty.

      Thanks again. Take it easy.

    • Mark Lees profile image

      Mark Lees 

      4 years ago

      A very interesting story. There was a little bit of Raymond Chandler meets Walter Mitty going on.

      I wouldn't consider it to be a flash fiction though - 1,000 words is generally considered the longest flash fiction and your story is over 2,500 words.

      Voted up.


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