By Greg Bullard
Welcome to part one of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. In our first installment there is gun fire, spanakopita, classic blues music, and eventually a decision to visit The Crone.
The world slowed down around me – the same way it always does when someone tries to kill me. I’d love to sound all blasé, remark that this is so tedious, but truth is, to this day my knees still get shaky when someone tries to ice me. It doesn’t matter that they’ve almost no chance of succeeding.
On this particular cool April night, I had just rounded a corner in the Lower East Side when that feeling hit. You know the feeling – ok, probably not – but it’s like your head is suddenly submerged in a bucket of ice water. You come out frosty and alert, senses firing on all cylinders, the world moving in slow motion, acutely aware of everything. That’s the feeling I had now.
Briefly I mulled over what was special about tonight that someone should try to off me, but I came up with nothing. I’d just left this little Greek place in Greenwich Village. Their spanakopita was worth the trek. It was made by the gnarled fingers of an old Grecian grandmother whose face had so many lines it looked like she’d worn out a few bodies getting it there. She didn’t have many years left on her, so I went a few times a month. In my situation, you have to be mercenary about these things. It all goes by in a blink.
I was walking along towards no particular destination, head full of cobwebs, submersed in the sensory deluge that is New York City – a cacophony of sights, smells and sounds fit to drown out everything else in the world when that frosty feeling hit. I took stock of my situation.
Mostly I could smell the bucket at my feet, full of cigarette butts soaked with run off from the earlier rains. Nearby, dinner was almost ready for someone – meatloaf I think. Beyond that, I could pick up rank body odor muted only slightly by the last traces of soap used earlier in the week; both were topped with a fresh splash of cheap beer.
I was facing the wrong way; I didn’t see my would-be assailant. All I saw were the tenement slums of the Lower East Side, broken in spots by the black iron bars of a closed business. Most of those doors had been shuttered for years or more.
From a cracked window overhead spilled the dulcet tones of a blues guitar. Blood dripped from the end of each dying note as the calloused fingers of the blues man picked out each sound and gave it up to the world as an offering of his pain. I paid attention to which window it was. When I sorted out this life and death shit, I had to pay him a visit.
The only other thing I heard was the creaking metallic strain of the spring in a double-action revolver as the hammer drew steadily and quickly back, cocking the gun to fire.
I swung my head around to catch a glimpse of my assassin. I locked gazes with him and took the full measure of his thoughts. He was scared. He wasn’t a killer; he was a hard-up loser paid to pull a trigger for the cash it took to ride his addictions straight to hell. Poor, sad bastard.
Click. The hammer passed its first position on the way back to locking full before crashing forward onto the firing pin.
There were at least seven ways I could kill him in that interminably long tenth of a second playing out in slow motion as his gun readied to fire. Instead, I nodded my head imperceptibly in his direction, reality twisted slightly and I took a step to my left, into the shadows.
Fire blossomed from the end of the gun and at speeds that were fast even for me the bullet travelled the distance between us and collided with my chest, neatly piercing the skin, shattering and rupturing the bones and organs underneath. The relative silence of the nearly abandoned city street was destroyed by the report of the gun. The fading echoes were punctuated by the thud of my body collapsing back in a heap, eyes open to reflect the glint of the odd street light not burned out from neglect.
At least, that’s what he thought happened.
I moved unseen on noiseless feet to my killer’s side and lifted the bundle of cash from his pocket. He didn’t really need it and after he tried to kill me, I really deserved it. Besides, it could lead me to whoever hired him. His eyes were fixed on a spot on the ground, twelve feet in front of him, where he was certain he was watching my lifeless body bleed out on the pavement. He turned and ran.
The acrid smoke from the spent cartridge nearly drowned out wet cigarettes, unwashed bodies and cheap beer. Overhead, the last note of Robert Johnson’s, “Hell Hound on my Trail,” spilled out of that same cracked window and hung in the air just like the smoke, drowning out the world around it.
My eyes lingered on the spot where I’d just died, at least as far as my junkie, killer friend was concerned. My stomach flip-flopped, but I was determined not to lose my spanakopita. I wiped my forehead on my sleeve, even though I wasn’t sweating. Settling my hat back on my head, brim down low, I took comfort in the shadows hiding my face.
My fingers closed on the wad of cash in my pocket. Would my answers lie there? The Crone would know.
In the distance a woman screamed, a long keening wail that ripped and tattered what calm remained within me.
I took off at a brisk pace, my steps chewing up the distance as I made for friendlier streets. Behind me the blues guitar launched into the oddly upbeat Blind Lemon Jefferson song, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean.”
About Greg Bullard:
Greg currently resides in Austin, TX, trying to do his part to Keep Austin Weird. While his wife, Julia, and daughter, Emily, both work hard to keep him on his toes, it is Julia’s red editing pen that does the most work. When he is not muddling his way through some fiction, he usually writes about What Greg Eats.
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