Bartered Innocence


The only mistake that Anna ever made was trusting me with a gun. My hands shake whenever I hold one. But in our relationship, red lights have always been considered advisory. When in doubt, floor it.

I’m convinced the only thing we ever had in common was an allergy to honest work. Anna was a high class economy-priced streetwalker, making pretty decent money, but she spent all her money at Siggy’s, buying drinks and cigarettes for her friends, lending deadbeats money.

I was a guy who made his living doing construction work whenever they needed an extra pair of hands. Otherwise I’d do whatever was required to survive, resorting to the occasional mugging, shoplifting, mail fraud, etc. A few short sabbaticals in minimum security institutions. I’ve had quite a career.

One night at Siggy’s Anna unveiled her plan for long-term fiscal solvency. She’d pick up guys and escort them to the nearest dark alley, I’d provide the muscle and we’d vacuum up all the loose money. All I was thinking was It sounds like she’s done this before.

We had weeks of rehearsals. She’d given me a script, made me say This is a robbery, rather than Hand over all your money. She was concerned that I didn’t sound menacing enough.

The first few fund liberations went extremely well, and I started gaining a measure of self-confidence. We’d head back across town to celebrate, and she’d spend the next hour critiquing me. I soon realized that I could never live up to her exacting standards. I found this strangely liberating.

Everything was going fine until the day she brought the fat man out into the alley. I approached him in the usual manner, said This is a robbery. He screamed like a woman and reached for his waistband; I fired, he fell. Blood splattered everywhere, in my hair and in my mouth and on my shirt, intermingling with my sweat, a cocktail of blood.

I rifled through his pockets quickly, stuffed $40 in my back pocket and ripped the fake gold chain from his neck. Anna just stood there, smirking like the homecoming queen.

I scanned the alley to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind but a bullet and a body, then rushed home and tossed my bloody clothes into a garbage bag. She started nagging at me in the car.

Why’d ya shoot him? Ya didn’t need to shoot him.

I had to. He was reaching for his gun.

He was just scratching his balls, ya dumb fuck.

The next morning I picked up a copy of the Bugle Advertiser to read our reviews. (You never forget your first murder.) Turns out our man was an off-duty deputy sheriff. It was right there on the front page.

Shit. I started going over my checklist again.

Throw the gun in the river.

Take our bloody clothes to the Laundromat.

I hung around Laundro-Matic until it was time to toss our clothes into the drier, then headed over to the Thirsty Bear. I reached into my pocket to pay for my first boilermaker, patted around for my wallet, gone. I used the fat man’s money to pay for my drink. The cops were waiting for me there; Anna was already cuffed.

A fat lieutenant smirked as he cuffed me.

Thanks for leaving your driver’s license at the scene. You saved us weeks of investigation.

He and his partner gave us a lift downtown, served us our coffee in separate rooms.

You might as well tell us. She copped out before you got home, said you were the main guy.


Weeks later I found out that Anna had agreed to plead guilty, in exchange for her agreement to testify. I couldn’t even look at her as she told all those lies on the witness stand—how I beat her and forced her into a life of prostitution, which inevitably resulted in murder. It took the jury 45 minutes to convict me.

People ask why I didn’t speak in my own defense. What can I say? I love her, naturally I want what’s best for her. Maybe she’ll come and visit me someday.

~ fin ~

Michael Koenig is a writer, editor, and designer in Oakland, California whose stories have appeared in recent issues of Crime Factory, Yellow Mama, Hardboiled, Near to the Knuckle, and the Paterson Literary Review. His work has also been anthologized in Awake! A Reader for the Sleepless (Soft Skull Press) and The Shamus Sampler 2, an international detective fiction collection.