Bleed American


Foley stomped across the apartment, slammed open the sliding glass door to the deck that was just wide enough to accommodate two lawn chairs, and pulled a tattered American flag from the railing. He came back inside, stepped onto a scarred end table, reached up and unhooked another flag hung sideways with thumbtacks in the wall.

He folded each flag in turn, then set them on the kitchen table. He walked across the room to the disheveled college student still sitting stunned in a threadbare recliner, grabbed him by the front of the shirt and dragged him across the room to the table.

“This is not a Cubs banner,” he said, pointing to the tattered flag from outside. He pointed to the other. “And this is not a Bob Marley poster. This not art. It’s a symbol of your freedom.

“Take this one to the Legion post and dispose of it properly, and keep this one folded up until you can think of a more proper way to display it,” he said. “I know you kids think this is some big joke, but boys your age fought and died to keep this flag flying. Show some respect.”

The kid, fully awake now after having dozed off in the middle of a video game before Foley knocked his door in, pulled out a kitchen chair and slumped into it.

“Who are you?” he said. “Some sort of flag patrol?”

“I’m the guy they call when guys like you owe a shit-ton of money, Kyle,” Foley said.

“Are you gonna kill me?”

“That’s a real possibility,” Foley said.

“Then what’s with the Betsy Ross act?”
“Principles are principles,” Foley said. “If I let you live, then I have done you a favor by teaching you an important lesson. If I decide to shoot you, those flags won’t be sitting around waiting for your stoner friends to decide to paint a pot leaf or peace sign on them.”

“Principles?” the kid said, a little fight coming into his voice. “You talk about principles when you readily admit you might shoot me because I owe the mob some money?”

Foley sighed. He was tired of this. Of the job. Of these entitled brats. Of the country sliding down the tubes.

“You owe money,” he said. “Used to be, that meant something to people. You want principles? How about making good on a promise? You promised to pay us back. You didn’t. We promised to kill you if you didn’t make good. So, who is more principled?”

“That’s fucked up, man,” the kid said, the brief hint of bravado now gone. His leg began to shake violently, and he ran a shaking hand repeatedly though his stringy hair.

“So,” Foley said, pulling a pistol from his waistband. “Do you have the money?”

“No,” the kid said.

Foley pulled a silencer out of his jacket pocket.

“Can you get the money?”

“No.” The kid was dripping sweat now, his eyes locked onto the silencer as Foley slowly twisted it into place.

“Is there any reason for us to expect that you will be able to get the money?”

The kid swallowed hard, and a yellow puddle started to form under his seat.

“N- n- no.”

Foley stuck the gun against the kid’s temple and pulled the trigger. He immediately slumped onto the table. The blowback from the kids head left a spray of blood and brains on the wall where the flag had been.

“Now that,” Foley said as he gathered up the flags and headed to the door,” is art.”

~ fin ~

John Kenyon is an Iowa City-based writer and editor. His short story collection, The First Cut, is available from Snubnose Press. He also edits the crime fiction magazine Grift, and its website at He has published widely, including Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Pulp Modern and elsewhere.