Jack had given up on life, not that he had done much in the way of living. He had boxed back in the day but didn’t amount to anything. The neighborhood he grew up in was a world where the gutter entered the sewer. He left that world behind him and came a long way to the middle of nowhere, for this was a solitary log cabin on a mountain. It was far from the nearest town and another winter was setting in. The place was freezing even though there was a fire burning in the stove. Jack sat on a tattered armchair with his shoulders slumped. He wore a heavy coat, a fur-lined hat and a blanket was wrapped around his shoulders. He hadn’t shaved in over a week.
Jack held a .38 Special revolver, it was rested on his lap.
“What else can I do Little Brother? Old Nate’s dead, I had to bury him out the back cause I hadn’t the money to bury him proper. Imagine not getting a decent burial. Then again Nate lived his whole life on this mountain so he wouldn’t rest happy among dead strangers... would he? It’s as good as an excuse as I can come up with. Damn it all, why am I talking with you Little Brother? You’re not even here. That’s about as crazy as anyone can get. All the more reason to put a bullet in my head, so don’t go trying to talk me out of it.”
Jack pressed the barrel of the revolver under his chin and slipped his finger over the trigger. A tear ran down his cheek.
The door of the cabin shook as someone pounded on it with the side of their fist. Then it was kicked open. Two men burst in bringing the wind and snow with them, the younger one pushed the door shut. The older man carried a leather duffle bag in one hand and an Uzi submachine gun in the other. They were both wearing heavy coats and beanie hats.
“We need to go back down and check on The Viking Deke, we can’t just leave him out there. He’ll freeze to death,” said the younger man.
“He looked dead enough to me. But if you want to go and drag his heavy ass up here, go ahead. Damn fool seen something and drove the car off the road nearly killing us. I’m staying with the dough.”
“He hit ice.”
“He was driving too fast. I told him to slow down, we weren’t running from anyone.”
Deke looked towards Jack as if he were seeing him for the first time. “Who else is here?”
“No one,” replied Jack.
“You weren’t talking to any no one.” He nodded to the younger guy, who was armed with a Glock. “Have a look around and see Mikey.”
Mikey went into the only other room in the cabin, the bedroom and tore it apart. Then he re-emerged. “There’s nobody in there Deke.”
“Are you a crazy guy who talks to himself?” asked Deke.
“Occasionally,” replied Jack. “When you have no one else to talk to, who else is there but yourself?”
“Smart guy eh?” Deke was dialling his cell phone.
“You won’t get a signal up here. A big mountain with too many trees.”
“Damn,” said Deke. “You got a car?”
“There’s an old truck out in the lean-to but you won’t get anywhere in it. It hasn’t been driven in a long while.”
“Fuck,” said Mikey. “What are we gonna do Deke?”
“You two are in the business of selling drugs, if I’m guessing right,” said Jack. “How about I sell you three bricks of cocaine… say ten grand? I don’t know what three bricks is worth but I’d say that’s more than a fair price.”
“Three bricks, are you fucking me about?” asked Deke.
“Pull that dresser out, they’re under some loose floor boards.”
“Check it out Mikey. If he’s lying he’s dead. I ain’t got any patience left.”
Mikey pulled the dresser over and it crashed to the floor smashing cups and plates. He lifted the floor boards and found the three bricks of cocaine.
“He’s not lying Deke.”
“Give them here.” Deke placed the Uzi at the end of the table beside the duffle bag. He took one of the bricks, pierced it with a flick knife and tasted the powder. “F-ck me,” he said. “It is coke. Where’d you get this?”
“From a dead guy who got what he deserved.” replied Jack. “What do you say then? Ten grand would get me out of here.”
“I ain’t paying you nothing,” said Deke. He threw a glance at Mikey and nodded towards Jack. It took only a second before it registered with Mikey as to what he meant and without hesitation he moved towards Jack raising the Glock.
Jack fired once from underneath the blanket and the bullet tore into Mikey’s gut. The Glock slipped from his grasp and he staggered backwards clutching his stomach. He flopped onto an old couch in a sitting position and began swearing in disbelief.
Deke moved quickly towards the end of the table to get the Uzi. Jack fired repeatedly in his direction and one of the bullets stuck him just above the right eyebrow. The impact twisted his head, then his body back and he hit the floor with his arms outstretched.
“You shot me... you fucking shot me!” screamed Mikey.
“With the very same bullet I was about to blow my own brains out with, only you busted your way in here and interrupted me.”
“No… no… no!” Mikey was staring down at the blood oozing through his fingers.
“You’re shot in the gut so you’ll likely die where you sit. In your line of business it was just a matter of sooner rather than later. If you had come a bit later you’d have found me lying here dead.”
Mikey looked over at Deke. “Do you know who that is?”
“He isn’t anyone any more, so it matters little to me who he was. I made him a fair offer and he was intent on killing me.”
Mikey then turned to pleading for help. “I’m burning up, please do something.”
“That’s the devil himself letting you know what hell’s got in store for you. The only thing I’m going to do is check the contents of that duffle bag.”
Jack got up, flipped the blanket from his shoulders and walked over to the table. He placed the revolver beside the Uzi and unzipped the duffle bag.
“Would you look at this Little Brother, it’s stuffed full of money.”
“Who the hell are you talking to, you crazy bastard? There’s no one there!” screamed Mikey.
“I know that but I talks to him anyways.”
“Talks to who?”
Jack lifted the Uzi and went back to the armchair, where he sat down again.
“What are you going to do with that Uzi?” Asked Mikey.
“I’m taking no chances.”
Jack placed the Uzi on his lap then he reached into his coat pocket and produced a wallet. He took a photograph from the wallet, looked at it and placed it back again. He did this several times but didn’t show any of the photographs to Mikey.
“I talk to my little brother. This is all I have left of him… photographs in a wallet.”
He then took a neatly folded piece of paper from the wallet and opened it out to look at it. He didn’t show this to Mikey either. It was a picture of a pier with a Ferris wheel and a beach in the sunset.
“This was my little brother’s dream.”
“What happened to him?” Mikey was clearly in great pain but he needed to know what this was all about.
“My little brother was murdered as he walked home from school… shot dead by a drug-dealing piece of shit, just like yourself.”
“You’ve got three bricks of coke, what were you doing with three bricks of f-cking coke?” asked Mikey.
“I kept them because they belonged to the scumbag that drug-dealer worked for. It was the satisfaction of knowing what it would cost his boss when he couldn’t pay for those bricks. I never intended selling them until now and only because I was desperate to get out of this place.”
“You kept three bricks of coke as a… as a trophy. Are you crazy?”
“I suppose I am crazy now but I wasn’t always that way, even after the lives we lived… my little brother and I. We never knew who our father was. He could have been any one of the men who regularly came into our home. We mightn’t even have shared the same father. Our mother was hooked on drugs, she had to feed her habit somehow. But not us... I had to feed us. I found her dead on the couch one morning with a needle stuck in her arm.”
Jack stared at Mikey as he twisted in pain. He seemed to pity him.
“I took on two jobs in the hope that I could put my little brother through college, so that he’d have a better life. I collected garbage during the day and did the door at a strip club during the night. I was only ever handy with my fists. He was a smart kid, eager to learn… to better himself. ‘Jack’, he’d say, ‘one day we’ll get out of this place. I’m going to make you proud of me Jack.’ I knew he would... I f-cking knew he would!”
Jack’s eyes had filled with tears and anger. Then the door was kicked open for the second time that night. It was a huge bear of a man with a tattooed face and a thick beard, he was brandishing a firefighter’s axe.
“You left me out there to freeze to death Deke. What the f-ck?”
Jack lifted the Uzi and squeezed the trigger. He couldn’t believe how easy it was to not miss this guy. The force of the bullets threw the big man back against the wall of the cabin and he slid to the floor onto a sitting position as they still tore into his body. Jack stopped firing and the man toppled to the side with a heavy thud. His torso was a bloody mess, there was also a gaping wound in his throat and a hole in his cheek. The wind was blowing the snow in again as Jack walked towards the body. He pushed the door shut.
“I knew he’d turn up eventually.”
Mikey was was twisting in agony and screaming again but Jack ignored him.
“That’s one Viking who won’t be in Valhalla,” he said. “Only real Vikings goes to that place.”
“You’re a dead man!” screamed Mikey. “You don’t realise who you’re fucking with. Our boss will...”
“Fuck your boss. I should be a dead man but I’m not, thanks to you. No one knows who I am, where I came from or where I’m going to… except you when I tells you. And you’ll soon be a dead man.”
Jack took the firefighter’s axe and began chopping a wooden chair to pieces with it.
“The handle of my own axe broke earlier. That was the sort of luck I was having of late,” he said. He then flung the pieces of the chair into the stove which had been burning low.
“I’d make some coffee but I’m all out of it,” said Jack as he returned to the armchair and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. He looked Mikey directly in the eyes.
“We had never been outside of New York... poverty has a way of keeping you imprisoned in the one place. ‘When I graduate from college,’ my little brother would say. ‘We’re going to California Jack. We’re going to Santa Monica to see the pier and the Pacific Ocean and the sun setting out there.’ He cut his dream out of a magazine and stuck it to the wall beside his bed.”
Jack looked at the picture again.
“This was your dream Little Brother… your dream and mine.”
His head was tilted to the side as if he were speaking to someone standing there.
“I don’t want to hear any more of this shit!” screamed Mikey.
“You’ll hear it all before you die,” replied Jack as he neatly folded the picture up and put it carefully back into the wallet. “My little brother was coming home from school when a car drove past and one of the scumbags in the back sprayed shots at two drug-dealers standing at a corner. My little brother was hit in the head by a stray bullet. He died beside two drug-dealers. The scumbag was laughing as they drove off. He had killed a little boy and the bastard laughed.”
Jack broke down completely before he composed himself again.
“I used the money I had saved, to put my little brother through college, to bury him and to put a stone on his grave. I had nothing left to lose, so I spent weeks watching that piece of shit… wanting to get revenge for my little brother. I was intending to beat him to death with my fists but I realised that I had lost as many fights as I had won, so I wasn’t for taking the chance on losing that fight. I didn’t care about dying I only wanted revenge and if I died after getting it then that suited me fine.”
Mikey was weeping but it was from pain and self-pity. “F-ck you!” he screamed. “I don’t want to know about your brother!” His face was drained of colour.
Jack ignored him, he had to tell his story.
“The scumbag pulled up in the alleyway round the side of his house the night I got my revenge. When he was half out of the car I stepped from the shadows and stuck a screwdriver into his throat. He slid down the side of the car looking up at me and I pushed it further in. ‘This is for my little brother, laugh now you b—stard. Laugh now!’ I kept repeating. He was still gurgling as I dragged him across to waste ground and searched his pockets. I found a bundle of notes in one of his pockets and threw garbage over his body before I went back to the car, found the keys and took off.”
Jack rose from the armchair, took the blanket from around his shoulders and placed it over Mikey. He then got the axe and chopped another chair to pieces before throwing it into the stove. The wind was howling outside. It rattled the door as if it were trying to get into the cabin. Jack warmed his hands at the stove and continued.
“I kept driving until New York was far behind me. Maybe two or three states. The state lines flashed by in the headlights. I stopped now and again for gas and something to eat and just kept moving. I saw the lights of a cop car coming up behind me on the freeway, but it passed and I took to the side roads. I didn’t know where I was headed. That’s when I started talking to my little brother.”
“Please stop talking. I don’t want to die man!” Mikey was still weeping.
Jack went back to the armchair and sat down again.
“I expect there’s a lot of people who’ve been killed by you, Deke and The Viking. They wouldn’t have wanted to die either.”
Jack waited for a response from Mikey and none came so he continued.
“I slept in the car, then moved on and found myself on a mountain road… the one outside. I knew the car was finished, it was rattling something awful and steam was coming from inside the hood so I pulled up. I decided to check the trunk to see if anything worth taking was in it. There was a backpack in there and when I opened it I found the three bricks of cocaine. I almost flung it into the trees but something told me not to… it was a reminder of what I had done to that scumbag and to his boss. Someone would want paid for the cocaine and the boss would have to pay, one way or the other. That thought made me hold on to it. I pushed the car off the road and it rolled down into the trees. And then I walked until I came to this cabin.”
Jack stopped talking, he waited again to see if Mikey would say something but he was still whimpering.
“There’s nothing anyone can do for you… nothing. Living’s about dying eventually… in the end we all die. The man who took me in, Old Nate, died right here in this armchair, just over two months ago… in the middle of a conversation. ‘I’m not feeling well Jack,’ he said. Then he just died on me. I had lost a little brother and someone who had become the only real father in my life. I couldn’t take it any more... I just couldn’t. Old Nate took me in when I had nowhere else to go. I felt bad hiding the cocaine from him... but I expect he knew something had to be in the backpack. He said nothing because he was lonely and needed company. He took me in about three years ago. Old Nate had known why I left New York... he knew about my little brother and knew I talked to him. He understood why because he was a good decent man.”
“What are you… what are you going to do now?” Mikey was struggling to speak. “You just going to take that duffle bag and walk down… down off this mountain in that weather? Some lucky b-stard will find your body and the...”
“I’ll drive down.”
“In what? You said the truck wasn’t working.”
“I said it hadn’t been driven in a long while. That’s because it’s out of gas. There’s gas in that car you came in, I’ll go and get it tomorrow and be off.”
“Fuck you!” spat Mikey, then he began choking blood.
Jack waited until he eased up before he continued.
“I’m going to take the money in that duffle bag and use some of it to buy me one of those RVs. Nothing too fancy, mind you, I don’t wait to be attracting any attention. Come the morning, before I leave, I’ll nail the door up good and proper, like nailing the lid on a coffin. I don’t want the coke, it’s yours anyway, you paid for it with your lives, so you might as well keep it. Then I’m going to go and sit on a bench on that pier in Santa Monica and I’ll be imagining the excitement on my little brother’s face as he watches the sun setting out on the Pacific Ocean.”
“The Viking screamed about a kid… a kid on the road… before he lost control of the car,” said Mikey, he was struggling to get the words out. “There was no kid… I was sitting up front. There was no kid… no kid.”
Jack sprang forward from the armchair. “He saw a kid on the road?”
But Mikey only stared back at him with lifeless eyes.
Jack turned half-expecting to see his little brother standing behind him. There was no one else there.
“Was that you Little Brother? Sonny please let me know... was that you Little Brother?”
He waited for a response but only heard the wind outside. Jack pulled the blanket over Mikey’s head, then went over and slumped down on the armchair.
“I understand Little Brother… I do. Not everyone can see the dead, not even those they love. We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”