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The Shooting Gallery
About the Author: Clifford Royal Johns is the author of Walking Shadow, a SF/mystery novel published by Grand Mal Press in 2012. He writes mystery, SF, and literary fiction. His short stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. He is currently working on his MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast.

My troubles began when Abbot realized he’d lent me money.

I first discovered I had a problem after a tall blonde woman came into Fatback’s Bar and sat on the stool beside mine. This was unusual in itself, since women of any description seldom arrive at Fatback’s alone and what’s more, she was attractive, unconcerned, and well dressed. She had class, which Fatback’s clearly did not.

After ordering a Coke, she turned to me. “Aren’t you Terminus McManery?”

I stalled, trying to decide if I should admit to this or not. It is my name, but most people don’t know my name is Terminus. Most people call me Mac, or Minus. I looked her in the eye and said, “No.”

“I thought so.” She smiled. She hadn’t needed to ask. She was just being polite. “I have a message for you from Mr. Abbot. He said you really need to pay it back double by tomorrow.”

“Huh?” I did my best impression of having no idea.

“I knew you’d understand,” she said. She smiled what I thought was an amused smile, mostly on one side of the mouth with a little twitch of the upper lip and a sparkle in her blue eyes.

The bartender arrived with a Coke. The blonde took a sip and said, “He’s buying.” She thumbed in my direction.

I pulled out a couple bucks and paid. “Call me Minus,” I said. “The other name is a bit embarrassing.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said looking me up and down for the first time. “I think Terminus fits you pretty well.” She spun toward me and slipped off the stool. Standing very close, she pointed her index finger and poked me in the chest, just to my left of center and said, “Bang.”

It was the way she said, “Bang,” that got me. For a moment there, I forgot that I owed money, and that she would collect it or collect my soul. Instead I thought about how she came in and sat next to me and chatted as though she and I were friendly and all that. She made jokes and expected me to understand them. Her expectations penetrated my slacker persona and made me puff out my chest. Then I realized she’d said, “by tomorrow,” and my chest deflated. How was I going to steal that much money by the next day?

She turned away and added, “See ya, Term.”

I watched her walk out, which was nice, then I started thinking about the money.

At the time, I was independently lower middle class and perfectly happy with that. Having invented a special three-point connector for electrical components, I had invested Abbot’s money in filing for the patent. Now, I was just beginning to make the investment back through royalties while living the low life. I had enough fast food. I had a utility apartment with its own bathroom, and I had enough spending money left over to sip a beer all evening at Fatback’s while watching the drunks who frequented the dive. Who could ask for more than that?

I could have sold my invention to a company for a good chunk of change, but then I’d have had a lot of money which I would have promptly wasted on things like quality food, a clean comfortable apartment and drinking two beers a night instead of one. I liked the slow trickle of money from royalties. I couldn’t really spend it any faster than I got it without expending additional effort.

Even if I did try to sell the invention now though, it would take months to negotiate a deal, and I had a day. So I had two options. Talk my way out, or steal the money. There was a third choice, but I don’t really count death as a viable option.

I left Fatback’s considering my choices. Abbot didn’t have a reputation as someone you could negotiate with. Seems once he decided something, well, that was it.

You might wonder how I got to know a thug like Abbot. It wasn’t on purpose really. I drive a pickup truck, and an acquaintance named Bluegill, whose real name was Bluto Gilbert—his father had a sense of humor—asked if he could borrow it. You don’t let someone else drive off with your pickup. You just don’t. So I said I would help him move whatever it was, that way I could lend him my pickup, but still not let him drive it.

It turned out that he needed to move a couch. But not just any couch. It was one of those fold-out couches that have a bed the size of my apartment folded and compressed inside. The owner of this stuffed concrete block was Abbot. Bluegill said we couldn’t take the mattress out. The couch smelled terrible. I had the distinct impression it was about a hundred and seventy pounds too heavy.

This story appears in our SEP 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

This is a finely woven caper and well written.
By Susan Rickard

Walter Matthau asked me to tell you that he's delighted that you enjoyed the movie version of The Looters.
By Charley Varrick

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