B.O.S.S. — The Rat, Part 4

By the time you read this I’ve already started on NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t want to neglect you guys.  Here’s part four of the adventures of Clayton Cobb.

Update:  Nanowrimo Day One Count: 4,402:  Two Chapters for Day one!   Woo!

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Four Punches.

Clayton lounged against the ropes in his corner, testing their sturdiness under his weight.   Two days from now he would have to kill a man with his bare hands.   They expected it to be an accident.

He pushed off the ropes at the sound of an imaginary bell, raised his fists and squared off against his shadow opponent.  Clayton had never been fast.  He relied on power and endurance.  He had to change that for this fight.   He bobbed and weaved, avoiding the phantoms lightning strikes, and played defensive.

Four punches.  He had to do it in four.  The rest would simply be an alibi.

A fast juke to the right followed by a quick hook would start it all.  A backwards dodge followed by a left straight would set him off balance.   A haymaker at the cost of taking a hit to the body would start the bleeding.  A deadly right, landed clean on the temple.  That would finish him.

Clayton sighed, letting his arms sag.   The arena had been bigger than he expected, sitting more people than her could begin to count.   There’d be lots of witnesses.

“Hey Clay,” Shirley said, walking down an aisle.  “You’re up early.”

“You should be here.” Clayton straightened, raising his guard to his imaginary foe.

“But I’m here anyway.   You got a corner man?”

“No.   Don’t need one.   Never had one—“

“Stop thinking like a rookie.” Shirley hopped on the ring side.  “You got one now.   I can have a towel ready for ya at least.”

“A dame?   My ring man?   I’d be laughed out of the—“

“You’d be laughed at worse than that without one.   Don’t worry I won’t be crying for ya when you get punches.” Shirley leaned over the ropes, her bosom scrunched against the vinyl.   Clay couldn’t resist stealing a peek.

“Fine.   But no distracting me or the opponent.” Clayton turned his eyes forward letting out a flurry of jabs.  “Get all your distracting out of your system before the fight?”

Shirley widened her smile.   “Oh so you’re makin’ demands huh?   You think I’m your girl or something?”

“Call it rent,” Clayton said.

“Hey I ain’t no streetwalker.   I’m classy.”

Clayton only nodded, focusing on his punches.

“I seen the guy you’re fightin’ Clay.   No need to be so serious.   You’re gonna murder the bum.” Shirley shuffled to his corner.   “I bet he won’t take but a dozen of your punches before he’s crying to mommy.”

Four.   It’ll be four.  Clayton shook his head, turned and made his way to the corner.   Shirley turned up her nose when he got close.

“You stink Clay, how long you been here?”

“Two hours,” he said, “I have a lot to think about.  Didn’t want to wake you up.”

“How sweet.”  Shirley stretched and planted a kiss.  Clay didn’t kiss back, not to say he didn’t enjoy it though.  “What’s wrong clay?   You hitting the showers already?”

“No.” He said, snapping free from his daze.   “Just— Hey Shirley.   What would ya do if Ronnie asked me to do something bad, real bad.”

“Do it.  Ronnie’s no joke Clay.   You’d take a dirt nap if you piss him off.   Worse than Toscani for sure,” Shirley said, pausing to consider.  “What he ask you to do?”

“Rub someone out,” Clayton said, “someone that crossed him.”

The smile fell off Shirley’s face.   “Oh.   Well, he had it coming right?”

“Yeah.”

“So who’s the guy?”

“The guy I’m boxing.”

Shirley paled, pulling away from the ropes fast enough to start falling.  Clay caught her, boxing gloves or not, any excuse to paw Shirley came as second nature.   “I— uh.   You can’t Clay.   Don’t do it.”

“Why not?” Clay frowned.

“Cause that bum you’re fighting is my brother,” Shirley said, squirming against his touch.

“Your brother?” Clay narrowed his eyes.   “Say it ain’t so.   You shoulda said something.   I can’t back out now.  It’s a boxing match.”

“I’m not asking you to back out of the match.   I’m asking you not to kill me brother,” Shirley said, glancing away.  “He’s a bum, sure.   A bad man too, but he’s blood.  Wait, you were gonna kill him in the ring?”

“Yeah,” Clayton said, “Easier than you’d think.   You just stun him and bust the important stuff in the head.   He’d black out and slip away.  Easy death, better than taking a bullet.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“It’s how my pop died.” Clayton ensured Shirley had her bearings and stepped away.  “Ronnie knows I saw that.   He wanted the same thing to happen again.   Easy really.”

“But—“

“Shirley.” Clayton went back to shadow boxing, practicing the four swings.   “I know he’s your brother.   But you know how Ronnie would off me if I blew this.  He crossed Ronnie, so he’s already dead.  I won’t blame you if you wanna leave now.”

“Damn it.” Shirley said, tightening her hands on the ropes.  “Run off with me then.   Let someone else do it.”

“No way,” Clayton said.  “You’re a damn good lady, but that won’t save your brother.   It wouldn’t save me neither.  I’ll make it painless as possible.”

Shirley hopped off the ringside and made her way down the aisle.   Her footsteps clapped through the hall, setting Clayton’s ears to throb on each strike.   Never was good with dames.

“Shirley.” Clayton lowered his guard, turning to her.

She spun back to him, arms crossed and defiant.

“You still being in my corner?”

“No.”

“How about my bed?”

“Go fuck yourself, Clay.” Shirley turned on her heels and stormed to the back of the hall.

“Guess that’s a no,” he said pacing to the ropes.  “He shuffled through the ropes and to the phone, rolling a shoulder as he walked.   Four punches.

He picked up the line, tapped twice and the operator popped onto the line.

“Hey doll, patch me to Ronnie.”

“Sure thing, Clay.”

Clayton craned his neck, eyeing the arena until Ronnie popped on the line.  “Ronnie.”

“Hey we have a problem,” Clayton said, dotting his forehead with a towel.  “A dame I shacked up with is the target’s sister.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Clayton hesitated.  “Uh, nothing.   Just thought you should know.   He might tell her my— boxing methods.  She’s a sharp one.”

“No problem.  Follow her if you can.”

“She still has her stuff at my place.   I can catch up to her no sweat—” Clay tensed, feeling air rush near his ear.  He dipped forward, catching a painful sting on his upper back. He tossed the phone, put his dukes up and saw Shirley sporting a black jack.

Shirley deepened her glare.   “I tried to make this clean for you Clay.”

The phone fell silent.  Ronnie knew the business well enough to know what happened.

Clay tightened his fists in his gloves.

“New plan Clay.” Ronnie’s voice said on the phone.  “Fix the problem.”

“Right Boss.” Clayton let out a sigh.

Shirley raised her other hand, a loaded pistol.  “Don’t be stupid Clay.   Just walk away.”

“You’re the one being stupid,” Clayton said, “There’s a problem with pointing a gun at me.   Cause it doesn’t work.”

“You’re not bullet proof, Clay.” Shirley pulled back the hammer of the pistol.

“Nope.   But you can’t pull a gun on someone that’s got nothing to lose.” Clayton exhaled sharp and crisp.  He weaved and slammed a hook into the side of the pistol, sending the bullet past him.  The pistol clattered away.  “Sorry Shirley.   You were a class act.”

Shirley kept her calm, raising the blackjack high, she lashed out at him.  Clayton dodged backwards, launching a straight to knock  away the weapon.  She winced her fingers twisted from the cudgel wrenching from her hand.  Clayton held his ground, weaving, and waited for her next move.

Fix the problem?  This is the problem.  Clayton relaxed his hands, stepped to the phone and hung it up.

Shirley nursed her throbbing hand, but made no move to plead.   “What are you waiting for?   You planned to kill my brother, what’s the difference if you kill me?”

“I don’t think you deserve it.” Clayton said, deepening his frown.  “You can run if you want.   You can stay if you want.   Does it matter if I’m the one that does the deed?   Some day, some crumb’ll look to dust me off the plate.   I’ll probably die screamin’. “

Shiley relaxed her shoulders, glancing away.

“I won’t stop you if you think killin’ me will make it better.   But know that’ll just get you killed too.   Your brother is already dead.  I’m already dead.” Clayton pulled off his gloves.  “I’m just lookin’ for a place to die, and enjoy the time I got left.”

Clayton tossed aside his gloves and started to the exit.  He felt tired.  Maybe he should have just let shirley take him out.   Then it would have been over.

Shirley let out a shout, her footsteps clattered on the ground.   She got closer.  A gunshot rang out.   Moisture splattered on the back of his neck.   Not his blood.

Clayton spun around in time to see the knife fall from her fingers, a stream of blood dribbling from her throat.   She gasped, choking  on a gurgle of blood.  He caught her, watching the life drain from her body.   Shirley clawed at him, desperate to have him help her, but he couldn’t.

He ran a hand through her hair, trying to smile.   Maybe he could make her think it had just been a bad dream.   He could yell at the shooter, bark rage, but it would shift from what was important.   Shirley fell still once her need for oxygen went critical.   He could only close her eyes and pray she would go to a better place.

A man in a suit stepped close, one of Ronnie’s goons.   He held a smoking gun and eyed Clayton with contempt.  “If I wasn’t an itchy trigger, you’d have a hole in you.”

“Yeah.   Sorry.”  Clayton said, his tone dry.

“I’ll send a cleaner.” The goon holstered his gun.   “You got training to do right?”

Four punches.   Will I be able to finish the other two?

Clayton lowered Shirley’s body to the floor, let her lie in the aisle, and returned to the ring.   Nothing to lose.   Nothing to gain either.

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