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"Pronoun Trouble" by Tom Kreitzberg

Twist #298 - June 2015

(Page 2 of 3)

McLean was not a sentimental man. Though he had known Little Joey for years, even saved his life once, he didn't consider him a friend and he didn't have a second thought about following Mr. Parker's orders. If word got out, of course, he would be in a tight spot with Crazy Joey, Little Joey's father and Mr. Parker's younger brother. Crazy Joey was as violent as he was unpredictable: he'd killed the man who first called him "Crazy Joey," then insisted everyone else use the nickname.

Still, Mr. Parker should be able to handle his own brother. If not, McLean would have to handle Crazy Joey himself.

McLean was thorough but not elaborate in his preparations. He ordered Chinese food and answered the delivery man's knock in sweat pants and a tee shirt. After wolfing down some lo mein, he put on a pair of dark pants and a leather jacket. With a trash bag in one pocket and a steak knife in another, he slipped out of his apartment building through the rear entrance, and walked two blocks to a car he used on nights like this.

McLean drove uptown to Little Joey's neighborhood. It was completely dark, almost nine o'clock, when he parked in the alley that ran behind Little Joey's house. Unless the twenty thousand dollars he'd stolen had changed his habits, Little Joey would be home, getting ready to go out for a night with his girlfriends. McLean made it to his back door without being spotted and pressed a hidden buzzer, using the signal that meant there was business to discuss.

Ten minutes later, McLean slid behind the wheel of his car, his night's work behind him and the sack of recovered cash beside him. It wasn't until he had inserted the key in the ignition that doubt first hit him.

He'd done just what he'd been asked, right? Mr. Parker's exact words were, "Kill him," and the "him" was Little Joey. That much was obvious.

Or was it? What if Mr. Parker had meant, "Kill Barry Parrish," the one witness to his nephew's crime, the last person he'd mentioned by name before saying, "Kill him"? Then the Parkers could keep the matter of the theft in the family.

This made more sense, in a way, since Little Joey was being groomed to take over the business, and there were ways of extracting twenty thousand dollars worth of penance from an errant nephew short of killing him. With Barry Parrish killed, Little Joey could be corrected without giving other people the idea they could steal from the business and survive.

Too late for that now.

McLean began breathing quickly as he pulled away from the curb. He furrowed his brow in an effort to recall precisely what Mr. Parker had said, and what he had meant.

McLean had gained the perfect trust of his boss because they always seemed to think along the same lines, and here hours had passed before McLean even questioned what he'd been ordered to do. That meant he'd been right to kill Little Joey.

Didn't it?

At a red light, McLean sighed and collected his thoughts. As a boy, he had often gone to the racetrack, where an old racing tout named Doc Andrews taught him how to play the odds. The odds were six to one, at least, that he had done what Mr. Parker wanted. Sometimes though, especially when the stakes are high, it's best to lay off some of your bet.

McLean pulled over near a gas station, stepped to the curbside pay phone, and thought about what he would say to find out what he needed to know.

Someone answered the office phone on the first ring. "Yeah?"

"Uh, Mr. Parker, please," McLean said, disappointed with the weak tone of his own voice.

"Who's this? McLean?" McLean now recognized the voice of Crazy Joey, Mr. Parker's younger brother.

"Yes. Is--"

"Where've you been? We've been trying to get hold of you. My brother just bought it. His heart or something. He went face down into the hors d'oeuvres in the upstairs lounge, about an hour ago."

McLean's chest suddenly felt very tight, and the glare off the aluminum frame of the phone booth from the gas station's neon sign seemed painfully bright.

"Get yourself down here right now!" Crazy Joey was shouting. "We need to make sure nothing else goes wrong tonight." He hung up before McLean could think of anything to say.