Scroll down for a sneak preview of chapter one.
1. The Four Bastards
A woman sits in a house with two dead men.
She doesn't know the men, although she's seen them before. They were there in her peripheral vision for days and weeks and months without her ever really noticing them.
One's stocky, short, with green eyes and an unadvisable moustache. She definitely recognizes the moustache.
Green Eyes is splayed out on the rug they bought in Morocco on their honeymoon. His blood has begun to clot in the fabric of the rug, that's how long he's been dead.
The other dead man is tall, thin. He has a little smile on, even now, splayed like an unnecessary puppet up against the bar cart which holds Jer's rare rum collection. The woman recognizes his height, and also that little smile. He was there at the Whole Foods, not two days ago, leaning on some anonymous compact SUV while she walked to her car.
The four bastards who killed the two dead men have arranged themselves around her living room, her family's living room.
The woman's name is Chris and her whole life has gone to hell.
"This couch is nice," says the first bastard, resting his considerable weight on the arm of the sofa. "It's a nice couch." The first bastard has a face like half-stirred pancake batter. He moves heavy, like he's hauling around a sack of wet concrete instead of a body. "Looks like it should have plastic on it. But then you ain't the kind of lady who puts plastic on her furniture, are you?" The pancake batter bastard jabs the sofa between Chris' legs with the twin barrels of a sawed-off shotgun. "People, there's different kinds of people, right? There's trash, they never got no plastic on no furniture. Hell, they might not even have furniture. Then there's lace curtain trash, the kind that knows enough to be ashamed. They put fuckin' plastic over everything, because they know they'll never know when they'll be able to afford another trip to Macy's. Shit, is Macy's even a thing anymore?"
The pancake batter bastard chuckles. It sounds like a roach scrabbling on cracked tile. "Then there's you. The hoity toity cunts of this world. You just toss out what displeases you when you're done with it. Go and buy something new. Not that you'd ever go to Macy's. You want something new, sweet thing? Something you ain't ever had before?" The bastard screws the twin barrels deeper into the cushion of the couch.
Danny stiffens next to her. Her son, half an inch taller than her now. Fourteen years old, and thinks he's a man. That's Jer, Chris thinks. The way he was cursing at them, the way he was threatening them, the way he stood up when they laughed at him, the way he fought back when they pushed him down.
Chris wonders if the only reason Danny hasn't flung himself at them, got chewed up by their bullets, is that he's also her son.
If she's the thing holding him back, keeping him reasonable, keeping him safe.
If that's what she's taught him.
To always be reasonable.
Always be safe.
Always hold back.
That's how she's lived, for almost twenty years now.
And now here she is staring into the eyes of a murderer. Because that's definitely what this pancake batter faced bastard is.
Anyone could tell.
The first bastard lets his eyes creep over the living room walls. Chris shivers, waiting for it.
Jer's little fashion show: Chris in swimsuits, athleisure wear, smoking a cigar in a Hong Kong cut suit. Jer's personal favorite: her in a wedding dress that wasn't hers, tonguing out a mouthguard with a professional snarl. Posed, beautiful, strong.
I was cut as hell back then, Chris thinks, before censoring herself. I've got bigger things to worry about now than edging 40.
The pancake batter bastard gobbles some expensive crudités he pillaged from the walk-in. "Rich guys love models," he says, shaking his head. "That's why there's never no gash for me."
"I'm no model," says Chris.
The bastard chews with his mouth open. "Not anymore that's for fucking sure."
"Brusstar," says the second bastard. This one's a study. He's dressed in a polo and khakis and expensive laceless sneakers, but his whole face, his arms, his neck, his eyelids, they're all covered in the most malignant, repugnant tattoos you can think of. Demons and angels copulating, pig-dogs getting drunk, squatting and shitting into wells of sinners. Maybe if she saw it on a medieval tapestry, Chris'd like it. But not on this man's skin.
The second bastard, he's stationed at the North window, peeking through the sheer drapes she'd told Jer not to buy from that place in Kyoto.
"What?" says Brusstar, clearly pissed.
Brusstar, Chris thinks and then realizes they wouldn't be using names if they didn't expect to kill her and Danny. Hell, they'd be wearing masks if they weren't going to get rid of them. Jer's wireless security system, the little cameras he set up around the house like bulbous mushrooms, he'll be able to watch the executions again and again and gain.
Not that the security system he insisted on installing did anything when the four bastards barged in and transformed her life into hell.
Chris could kill her husband right now.
"Leave the lady alone," says the third bastard. He's sitting over there in the South window, keeping an eye on the street in a bad black and white suit, toying with his cuffs. They're frayed to hell, like the rest of him. His face is pasty, his mouth is antsy, his eyes are watery, pink, and absent. He reeks of old milk. He could be fifteen or fifty-five.
It occurs to Chris that between their stations at the North and South windows, at least one of the bastards will see Jer as he's walking home from the train.
And then they'll have the drop on him.
Chris never seriously thought her husband would save her, but it'd be nice if there was even a slight chance of it.
"I got nothing else to do," says Brusstar. "I'm bored as a bastard. And I'm seriously considering some alternative forms of entertainment." Brusstar swings that sweet smile on over to Chris.
Danny tenses even harder. He's going to try something again, Chris thinks. And maybe this time they won't just push him back on the couch. Maybe this time they'll have their fun with him.
"Why are you doing this?" Chris says. She meant to say something, anything at all to put the brakes on things, but now that she's said it, she realizes she's genuinely curious.
"Why us?" Chris says. "Of all the people in the world, why us?"
"Jesus Christ on a pair of fucking crutches," says the fourth bastard. He's enveloped in some boutique brand hoodie, an eyeball pierced by a switchblade directly in the center of his chest. He looks like a celebrity skater with a bad hangover. "You mean you don't know, girl?"
Brusstar throws his head back and howls. It takes Chris a moment to realize this is meant to be laughter.
"Oh Christine Christine Christine," Brusstar says.
"Nobody calls me that," Chris finds herself saying.
"ChrisChrisChrisChris," Brusstar says, patting her knee and then letting his palm rest there. It's damp. "Jer's a middle manager, middleman, stuck in the middle with you, he's a cog in a great machine that brings some very valuable pills down from our neighbors in the North, brings 'em on down to the city." Brusstar leans in, letting his ruined face become her world. "He's a drug dealer, Chris."
"No," she says. "Jer's in pharmaceutical sales and—"
"Oh shit!" yells the fourth bastard. "Is that what he tells you, girl? That's fucking rich!"
Bastards two and three don't seem to think this is as funny. Chris hopes that means that they're less likely to rape her, cut her up, feed her to Danny, or the other way around. But when she turns to look at them, bastards two and three just stare at her like she's a problem they've got to solve.
"Who do you think they are?" says Brusstar, gesturing at the dead men on her carpet with the sawed-off.
"I don't know," Chris says. "I don't know why you killed those men and brought their bodies into my—"
"Orren Major and Tommy 'Fingers' Veblen," says the second bastard, preening a little. "Two Corporation hitters. It was their job to keep an eye on Jeremy Holloway, him and his family, these last couple months."
"See," says the third bastard, sitting forward a little too anxiously. "Things are changing in the New York game. All is fluid, all is unknown."
"Well," says the fourth bastard. "Not all is unknown. One thing we know for sure." He gives a gleeful smile. "Your hubby's people are on the outs. This is just cleanup. The real shit went down this morn—"
"Stop talking, you dumbshits," says Brusstar, reeling off the couch. "We don't need to explain dick to this little cooze."
"Mom," whispers Danny.
Chris looks to her son. He's so handsome, so brave, so stupid. Just like Jer. She's never thought that before, that her son might be stupid. Jer, sure, okay. He's always had it easy. Easy childhood, easy education, easy career. Hasn't had to fight for everything the way she has.
And now he's gone and sold himself to some drug machine.
Stupid stupid stupid.
Then Chris realizes: she and Jer have given Danny the same easy life Jer had. She wonders if he's going to grow up to be equally amoral, equally reckless, equally ready to sell his family down the river for a buck.
Jer as a drug dealer. It shocks her, Chris realizes, how easily she's already internalized it. It makes sense now that she thinks about it. How else could someone as stupid as Jer bring home a salary in the high six figures?
Okay, Chris thinks. My husband is a drug dealer. But does that really change anything?
Of course not.
Chris loves her stupid husband, she loves her stupid son, she loves their stupid house and their stupid upper middle-class neighborhood, she loves their stupid Prius parked outside in their stupid driveway. She loves their whole stupid life, and if Jer had to sell drugs to people who were going to do them anyway to pay for it, well then who the fuck was she to get all judgmental?
Danny's looking at the clock.
The big old ancestral clock, gilt edged and silver, the one that hung above the bar in Jer's father's basement, where Danny learned how to play Yahtzee and drink sweet tea and swear.
8:18pm. They've been here almost three hours. But that's not what Danny means.
What he means is that it's almost 8:30. Jer's never home later than 8:30. It's a stupid promise, but he's kept to it all these years, no matter how busy things got at the office...selling drugs.
The second bastard has stepped away from the window. He's pissed off as hell about something. He's squaring up to Brusstar, who's off the couch now (thank god). She can't follow the conversation. It's all jumbled, all lingo, all cussing. The other two bastards are weighing in now too.
No one's watching the windows.
Chris cranes her neck to look out the North window, but she can only see a sliver of empty street.
Danny scooches over to look out the South window.
"...absolutely skullfucked plan!" the second bastard is saying, gesturing emphatically with a long, thin knife Chris hadn't clocked before. She cranes over just a little farther to see out the North window.
Jer opens the front door.
He's got his jacket thrown over his shoulder. He's got his sleek button-up on. He's got his radiant smile on.
Chris tries to yell, but nothing comes out.
Brusstar pivots and fires both barrels into her husband's chest.
"Dad!" yells Danny. It's a screech, the sound a child makes.
The second bastard takes a little hop toward them, and before Chris can even raise a finger, he's driven his long blade into the base of Danny's skull.
Chris watches the light go out of her son's eyes.
Then something happens that nobody would have expected.
The alarm trips. The klaxons clang discordant, interweaving and deafening.
All four bastards yell, go down to their knees, claw the air.
And Chris, without thinking, goes out the door.
The woman leaves the house with four dead men and runs into the night.
copyright © 2021 Gerry Brown
Walking The Edge is screening on Sunday 15th Aug at the New Beverly Cinema, Los Angeles.