The Score

By Jack Durant

Timothy Coffey was nervous. The feeling had been rife throughout recent days, crawling along his chest and stomach in search of weakness it could burrow inside. Coffey had ignored these notions as nothing but resurgent memories to smother. A task current circumstance was estimating him to be thoroughly unprepared.

He blamed this place. Foreign, though a part of his city, the tiny North End hosted not the local culture, but one of another country. These streets were narrow and in great need of repair. There were too many stalls and thus too many sullen, unwelcoming migrants, belting their melodic, yet aggressive, language. He found them to be an ugly people and he resented how their overwhelming presence made his own feel alien. It started with the eyes. Their dark, devilish eyes that gnawed at his courage. He had grown up awash in a blue sea. Often deep like the waters of their northern shore, this shade had been an unknown constant he loathed to be suddenly without. Most insulting of all though, was the myriad of flags. Tri-colored like the ones that decorated his home, though flaunting one wrong stripe. That single blooded block that invariably compelled him into sympathies with those ever-guarded natives who had his whole life looked down upon him and his ancestral banner.

He was not alone. With him was Barney ‘Dodo’ Walsh and his leader, Frank Wallace. Standing above him in both height and rank, they walked down Hanover Street through the thrall around them. Coffey did not wonder if his associates felt as he did. This was nothing new to his rugged general. Out of the blood, violence, and frenzy of their slum, Wallace had built a stronghold on Gustin Street. A criminal gang, but one necessary to have beaten the chaos and misery of Coffey’s youth into an order worth fighting for. Even as the country changed and cities of greater scale bent the knee to the virulent mobs blowing in from across the Atlantic, Boston, and the Gustin Gang, had been a bulwark for the first migrants who landed upon this new country. Those who had come to the United States on ships called coffins and made to work, fight, and bleed as the proverbial coal needed to power this industrial titan. Centuries of humiliation across the sea met with decades here until the providence this land had promised his emaciated forebears finally delivered, at least in their enclaves. And now, said communities were being taken away. First infiltrated, then infested, to finally reinvented into cities unrecognizable. This was the last major hold. The last city his people controlled. He had to quash his apprehension and help nip this budding mafia before it spread beyond the borders of their immigrant neighborhood.  

“Something the matter Coff?” Wallace asked as they stopped in front of their destination, an unremarkably-sized warehouse that seemed bloated on this compressed alley of a main street.

The wind screeched like a banshee before he could answer. Coming in from the dark, choppy harbor, its late December chill cut to his bone. “Nothin boss,” Coffey replied, afterwards. “But I can’t help but look twice over my shoulder around these types.”            

“You nervous?” Dodo asked, his voice more annoyed than concerned, and punctuated with the growl that made him sound like the bear he was.            

“I ain’t nervous.” Coffey replied, doing his best to match the tone of his associate. “They’re all two-timers though. And you can’t turn your back on a two-timer.”            

Wallace nodded, his blue, hawk-eyes taking a moment to survey those passing in the street. “You’re right, Coff,” He said, slowly. “You can’t turn your back on a two-timer. That’s not what we’re doing though. We’re meeting him head-on. A two-timer’s got nothing then but the score. And you can always trust a two-timer to know the score.”            
Coffey nodded. Suddenly flush with the litany of words from his normally stoic chief.             
Wallace nodded back and turned to Dodo who dipped his large head in return. Then Wallace placed his palm on the door before them and pushed his way into 317 Hanover Street.

There was little relief from the cold. The walls were a faded grey that surrounded the nearly empty reception room. Behind the desk at the far end was a young woman with the wide figure brought upon by their food. She greeted them nervously and they ignored her, walking past the desk and through the door leading upstairs. Coffey walked behind Dodo and his boss up the narrow staircase, the words of his leader still echoing in his mind and further buttressing Coffey’s strength with each step.            

They came to the third floor. The lights were out and little was granted through the window at the far ends of the hall. Wallace stopped in front of the door of C & F Importing, nodded to Dodo, who took the space on his right, while Coffey stayed on his left. Both bodyguards reached into their jackets, clutching the handle of a revolver. Wallace nodded one last time, then raised his fist and banged on the door.             

At first there was nothing. Only the echoes of his knock drifting down the empty hall. The men waited. Each second was a drawn-out story in itself, creating then killing reasons for the moment. Coffey’s breaths were long and quiet. His palm became damp and clammy, making him grip the pistol harder. Wallace narrowed his eyes and snarled through clenched teeth as he raised his fist to knock again. But got his answer before he could.

There was a loud pop, followed by two more as a bullet broke through the wood and buried itself in Wallace’s chest. Coffey yanked his gun from his coat but fumbled it, letting the weapon fall as his general died from the thrice lethal assault that had struck him.

Dodo had more luck, firing blindly into the door. But the other side had the advantage, firing back and hitting Dodo in the arm. The larger man turned to flee, while the smaller one ducked into the office across the hall. As he barred the door, sounds of Dodo’s thumping, followed by the brisk, light tapping of his pursuers rang through both the building and his mind. He heard another gunshot a little after Dodo started descending the stairs, then silence.

Coffey started breathing heavily. He reached for his gun but realized he had left it in the hall. Reeling, the frantic man stumbled over to the window and gasped in relief at the metal bars of a fire-escape latched tight alongside the glass portal. Not knowing if the steps he heard were his hunters or the unforgiving pang of his heart, Coffey pushed open the window and climbed out.            

The air, even if cold, was a relief. The warehouse had been a hole. And he was no longer a shivering mouse listening to the slithering doom of a serpent’s black tunnel. Though, out of confinement was not out of danger. Coffey scrambled down the ladder with visions of his faceless stalkers appearing pistols-drawn as he went past each window. Finally back on earth, Coffey ran around the alley of red brick and into a uniformed cop as he came onto Lathrop Street.            

Familiar barriers went up as Coffey’s senses readjusted after the collision. Pressing his teeth together, he prepared to say nothing to this titan of size and authority.            

“Are yah alright there, boyo?” the cop asked, sounding genuinely concerned. “We sent our guys in there and found your chums. Did yah happen to get a look at the ones that plugged em?”            

Coffey said nothing, but comforted by the brogue, his jaw unclenched, with the rest of his firmness soon following as he looked into the eyes of the lawman before him.

“You alright lad?” The officer asked again, giving him a once over. “They didn’t get yah somewhere too, did they?”            

Coffey shook his head and said, “I didn’t see them. They shot through the door.”            

The policeman shook his head, “Did they? Dirty bunch of crooks. Don’t worry now, even if the bastards scurry down every rathole this neighborhood can offer, we’ll get em for yah soon enough. Trust me, it won’t be long before every guinea-hood in this town knows the score.”

Coffey nodded, now knowing it himself. He looked past the concerned face in front of him. In the windows were decorations for the coming anniversaries to God and Gaea. He would live to see both. Those men were still out there, creatures lurking behind the shadow of closed doors. But he could stand with authority in the open. At this point, nothing else was necessary. He asked if he could go home and the bulwark before him said he could in good time. That was enough. A breeze came in from the harbor, but it did not chill Coffey. Instead, he felt strangely warm.

Bio: Jack Durant is an ESL teacher who has taught in Chile, Japan, Spain, and New York. He lives abroad and writes fiction in his spare time.

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