by Anthony Levensalor

Grady knew he was alive, because of the pain. It wasn't bad enough to be in hell, and there isn't any pain in heaven, so he'd heard, so he had to still be alive. His right leg was a mangled mess and his arm felt broken, but at least he was alive. He shuffled over to the brick wall behind the Uptown Tavern and slumped against it, exhausted. He wasn't all that worried about the cops, they didn't have the balls to come out here, to this hell-hole part of town. Mostly, they just stuck to their donut shops, talking trash about their wives and laughing it up while the city went to shit around them.

Grady looked down at the man that used to be his mark. The fucking guy had fought like a wildcat. It was supposed to be a simple contract, a hit on a chaser who put one of the big guys away. Hell, he wasn't anything more than a kid, really. One thing was sure; Grady earned his pay this time. He had to laugh at that. It had to be no more than a week ago the Turk had been giving him shit in his posh upper-west side apartment about how Grady got all the easy marks, and Turk had to handle the assholes. He was right, but that's what happens when you take a bullet for one of the biggest mobsters in the good ol' U.S. of A. They tend to remember the people who save their lives.

'God, am I fucking tired', Grady thought. He closed his eyes for a second, collecting himself. He needed to get the hell out of here. Regardless of whether the pigs wanted to or not, they would have to be here after the body was discovered. Oh, the body would definitely be discovered. He was just too tired and worn down to dispose of the little fucker. Propping himself up on the wall, he got back to his feet. He gingerly put some weight on the right let, and grinned with pain. He lookup up the alley and said "Hell, gotta get moving sooner or later. Fuck it."

He was almost halfway to the street when he heard the shout. Instinctively, he tried to dive out of sight. Without thinking he put too much weight on his bad leg and cried out as a piston of pure white pain ran from his ankle to his crotch, forcing him over into a pile of trashcans. He heard another shout, and then the sound of running feet. He looked up just in time to see the sole of a big yellow work boot come down on his face. Then there was a flash of light, then nothing.

"... telling you, there's no way he did it alone."

"Course he did, but he had to have taken...... surprise."

Grady tried to remain limp as he awoke, tried to get any advantage he could. He didn't dare open his eyes yet, and all of his attention was spent trying not to tense up when his raw, bloody mass formerly known as leg hit the ground rhythmically in time with the footsteps of whoever was dragging him along. Every half second or so it was like an electrician was testing a circuit through his leg at fifty thousand volts. It was more agony than he was used to. Hell, it was more agony than he had ever been in before.

Just when he thought he couldn't handle it anymore, he was dropped onto the pavement.

"Fucker's heavy, Vince.", he heard, then felt the toe of a boot in the middle of his chest. He did the best he could not to react, but it was no use. He let out a little gasp.

"Hey, Harvey, I think he's awake."

"Let's find out", the first voice said. The voice sounded young, male, and mean. "Hey! You awake, Fucker! Hey! Wake up, asshole, time to pay the fucking piper!"

Grady screamed when he felt the boot come down on his leg. He heard a sickening, wet crunch that said the already mutilated leg was broken, and probably pretty badly. The sound didn't register, nothing registered, except the pain. He wondered idly if he would ever walk on that leg again.

"Oh yeah, he's awake. Look at him squirm." This voice was cold and hard, like icicles sliding down your back. Even through the pain, Grady managed to be afraid of that voice. He was grabbed roughly and pulled up face to face with the first voice.

He looked into the bright blue eyes of a young hood, just as he had thought. His nose was long and pointed, and his hair was bleached-blonde with a stripe of green through the center. He had a crucifix stuck through his nose. Grady looked down and saw a tell-tale bulge in the kid's pocket. Jesus, he thought, I'm really not going to make it this time. After all the bullshit I've gone through in this stink hole city, I'm going to get killed doing a simple hit on a goddamned chaser. Un-fucking believable! He was Grady Wilson, one of the best professional hammers in the fucking tri-state area, not some snot-nosed kid off the street doing his first hit! Fuck that!

Grady put everything he had into one swing, grabbing the kid squarely by the balls and falling away from him as soon as the grip on his shoulders loosened. He landed badly, with the punk on top, but he had his hand where he needed it. He squeezed like his life depended on it, and the kid screamed like a bitch.

"Oh, fuckfuckfuck, Vince! Jesusfuckgodhelp! omigod, it fuckin' HURTS!"

Vince moved in on Grady and Harvey just in time to see Grady point the gun.

The 9mm bullet went in right under Vince's chin, spraying blood and brain like a fountain through the top of his head. He fell back, an expression of surprise cemented onto his face for eternity.

Harvey never even noticed that Grady had taken his gun. There was no recognition of anything other than his own pain, even when Grady put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

"Pussies", Grady said as he pushed the corpse with blonde, green, and now red hair off him. He lay there staring at the sky for a minute, amazed to be alive. The pain in his leg was an order of magnitude worse than it had been before, but he didn't give a fuck at the moment. He needed to get somewhere safe, or at least somewhere that passed for safe for the time being. He would worry about medical attention later. He pulled himself back to his feet again and shuffled out of the alleyway, holstering the gun behind his back in the waistband of his jeans.

He knew more would be coming, and soon, but he was lost. He knew better than to go straight back to the flat where they had gone to the mattresses when this whole thing started. If they didn't kill him and everyone else holed up there, his own people would, just for fucking up enough to get them discovered. He decided to head to his friend's place up in the projects a couple of blocks away, just get inside somewhere and let this all blow over. He limped away from the blood and gore behind him, intent only on staying out of the way for the rest of the night.

Mick stared at the mess in front of him. Three of his guys, all dead, two of them with Harvey's fucking gun. Harvey was no big loss, just a punk, really, but to lose Vince and Andy in the same night... Hell, losing them at all was nightmare enough. They were the very best chasers he had, and whoever had taken them out had gotten away with his life. He wouldn't believe it if he wasn't standing right there staring at this fucking lunacy.

He turned to the man with him, a mid-twenties type with all the trappings: nose-ring, tongue-ring, probably a cock-ring, for chrissakes. "Jimmy" he said, "I want you to do something for me."

"Whatever you need, 'M'." Jimmy had a habit of calling people by their first initial. Normally, it pissed Mick off something fierce, but he let it slide this time.

"Go get the guys, all of them, and find the son of a bitch who did this. When you find him, kindly let him know I would like to have a word with him in private."

"You want him alive, 'M'?"

"If you can manage it, Jimmy. If you fuck it up and kill him I won't be very happy, so don't do anything retarded. Understood?"

"You got it..."

"And stop fucking calling me 'M', you idiot."

Jimmy turned away meekly "Sorry Mick."

Mick watched him walk away, disgusted. Jimmy lacked a sense of urgency, had a complacency that was really keeping him from his potential. He'd be an hour or more rounding up the boys to come down here and start hunting up a cold trail. Mick looked around for a second, noticed the bloody trail headed off in the direction of the Height-Land Projects, and smiled. Andy had been one tough motherfucker, and a close friend, if Mick ever had such a thing. He wouldn't wait for the crew.

Locked. of course the fucking thing would be locked, and Grady's old acquaintance gone fishing or whoring or whatever the fuck he did for fun on a Thursday night. Grady punched the door in disgust. He looked around, suddenly sure he would see five or ten men ready to finish him off. God, if that fucking kid hadn't wrecked his cell-phone! Shit, if he had died nice and easy like he was supposed to, none of this would be happening at all, and he'd already be back at the flat, or off getting laid, instead of running for cover like some chicken-shit school kid.

Grady looked up at the overcast sky, trying to figure his next move. He was wasting time, and that didn't sit well with him. He wasn't one to stand around with his thumb up is ass trying to figure things out. He was more of a run-and-gun type, a man who preferred action to words, instinct to thought. He had never been in a situation quite like this before, though he had been through his share of shit in the pits. Grady hobbled over to the backyard gate, hoping to at least get out of sight before anyone could find him. He knew they'd already be looking, he had taken too long getting the hell out of that alley and to the projects. The pain in his leg had subsided to a deep, loathsome throb, but it became agony if he put any weight on it. Grady wished he could go back and kill the little son of a bitch again, purely out of spite.

Mick watched the man punch the door to the run-down apartment, amused. The guy he was looking at was half-crippled, and it was hard to imagine him being able to take out Andy alone, never mind Vince and Harvey after the fact. Mick assumed Andy had done the damage to the guy's leg, it had been more his style. He had drawn his pistol as soon as he came up on the man, and now he held it carefully, thinking. Should he just kill him and get it over with, or get some answers? 'Fuck it', he thought 'This guy is going to give me some answers.' He knew it was dangerous, but the fucker was all beat to shit, what could he do, really?

Grady looked around one final time before entering the yard, to make sure no one was watching. He scanned along the street looking for anyone who might have taken an interest and saw no one. He walked into the yard, wincing as he turned to close the gate. When it was secured, he moved out of sight and slumped down on the cement walk, wrenching his leg in the process. He let out a sharp hiss as he ratcheted to the ground bit by bit, finally getting into a position he could tolerate. "Hurry up and wait." he said irritably.

Mick stood with his back to the cement wall next to the gate, waiting. A man in that kind of shape wouldn't be able to stay conscious very long, and he wanted the element of surprise firmly on his side. Minutes passed as Mick contemplated how good it was going to feel to mangle the fucker's other leg, then his arms. Then, finally, when he was begging to die, Mick would put a bullet right between his eyes, ending the poor bastard for good. He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes. Good, that was enough time. He leaned over and carefully peeked through the gate. He saw the man sitting on the ground, his bad leg straight out in front of him. Well, as straight as it could be, anyway. God, the guy's leg looked like a pipe cleaner in the hands of a three year old, bent in all the wrong places. The man's head was slumped over, eyes closed. Sleeping. Or unconscious. Or dead. he hoped it wasn't dead. He turned the corner and threw the gate open.

Grady fired three times. The first bullet flew wild, skimming off the cement wall and into the darkness. The second bullet nicked the man at the gate's left thigh, and passed on into the land of forensic evidence. The third bullet struck true, shattering the left kneecap and switching an expression of arrogant confidence for surprise, followed immediately by agony.

Mick had almost completely pulled his gun when the bullet hit his knee. The agony was total. The world disappeared into a white haze as his leg lit up like the Fourth of fucking July, and he dropped instantly. He howled with the pain, rolling away from Grady as quickly as possible, and still trying to draw his gun. He managed to get it out, but his hands refused to function. It was as if his brain had shunted function to everything except the part of him that could feel pain, and he rolled again, putting the gun out of reach. He felt a dull thud in his shoulder as another bullet hit, but the pain was secondary, almost an afterthought to what was going on in his leg.

Grady managed to smile as he looked at Mick, writhing and howling, his gun too far out to reach. He leveled the gun he had lifted from the punk in the alley and pointed it at Mick's face. "I'm surprised they only sent one of you.", he said conversationally. "Did they miss the three I took out earlier, thought one was enough?"

Mick had managed to get some control over himself. He lay on his side, cradling his destroyed knee, saying nothing.

"You know what? It doesn't matter.", Grady said. "I fucking won and you fucking lost, and ain't that just the way it goes in tinsel town?" He laughed. "I'll tell you what, asshole. I'll make you a little deal. You go back and tell your boss that I'm going to get better, and he had better move his operations out before I do, or I'm going to end this war the same way I ended that little shoving match back in the alley. You tell him that for me, and I'll let you out of this alive." He nodded. "I know you would've killed me coming in through that gate, but I'm a forgiving man. I'll forget all about this little unpleasantness with you and me, if you deliver that message. Tell him Grady Wilson's going to come back. Tell him Grady Wilson can't fucking be killed, and tell the chicken shit little fucker that I'm going to shine his asshole with the barrel of a thirty-ought double-barrel. You got that?"

Mick just stared at him. Was it possible that this man, this Grady Wilson, with enough smarts and enough strength to beat not only his top guys but he himself could not know that Mick was their leader? Was his enemy so ill-informed? He swallowed hard. "I-I'll tell him, just please don't kill me. I got to get out of this, it ain't worth this shit, just let me go and I'll tell him anything you want, ok? Ok?" He tried to look panicked, scared absolutely shitless. He was scared, of course, but laying it on nice and thick meant he might get out of this situation alive, maybe even still get the chance to kill this cocksucker.

Grady pushed himself up slowly, using the wall as a prop. He stood there on his good leg for a minute, eyeing Mick. He pointed the gun.

"I told you I'd tell him! What the fuck are you doing?! Don't kill me, man! Please don't kill me!" He put his head down and began to cry, hoping the sobbing sounded genuine. He started mumbling semi-coherently "Thisain'tfuckinrightIgotthreekidsathomewithnomomdon'tknowwhatthey'lldowithoutme..."

Grady pulled the hammer back. "Names.", he said.

Mick looked up. "What?"

"Names. What are their names? What are your fucking kids' names? You have two seconds."

"ClaudiaJohnAshley" He blurted out. Hell, if the guy didn't even know who he was, he sure as hell wasn't going to know the names of his kids, and two seconds wasn't long enough to come up with fakes. Sure, he hadn't seen them in a couple of years, but they were real names.

"Claudia, John, and Ashley. Good. How old are they? Three seconds."

Mick was at a loss. He couldn't have remembered all three of their last names, never mind how fucking old they were. So, Mick did the only thing he could think of, he lunged for the gun, pushing off with his good leg.

Grady was surprised when he pulled the trigger and nothing happened. The fucking gun hadn't been fully loaded! Shit! He threw himself on the ground, trying to cover Mick's gun. They got to the weapon at the same time, clawing and punching at each other to get it. Grady grabbed hold of Mick's head and twisted, trying to break his neck. Mick's hands wrapped around Grady's throat, trying to suffocate, crush.

Mick was shocked when Grady's head exploded, spraying blood and shooting little bone fragments like shrapnel. A piece of skull lodged in his bicep, a pinprick to the pain he already felt. He looked up and was instantly relieved.

"Holy shit, thank god. You just saved my fucking...."

He still look relieved lying there in a puddle of his own blood with half of his head gone, Jimmy decided. "How's that for retarded, you prick?", he said conversationally. Then he turned and walked away, whistling to himself.

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