Horse Trading


I see an old man in the mirror. He has more wrinkles than the last time I saw him, and there’s blood cracking in some of the folds of his skin. I run my hands under the blast of cold water coming out in spurts and wipe my face, wipe last night away. But I can’t get rid of the stain. Maybe if I hadn’t passed out in the kitchen curled around the bottle of Knob Creek. Maybe if I could remember what I did to Kenny.

Well, maybe if I could remember something better.

Everybody in this town will know I did it. The Sherriff’s a farmer, and he knows his bad seeds. I wasn’t born and raised in Burkettsville. I got here a year ago, dropped off with a new name and a new history. Witness protection. I was facing twenty-five years for some stuff, and they wanted a guy who’d killed more people in New York than thirty-two ounce sodas. You wouldn’t get that if you weren’t a New Yorker, but he was on the hook for a dozen floaters in the East River.

So he’s in Attica now, and I’m halfway across the country, nursing wounds I inflicted on Kenny, figuring I got about an hour before anyone will find him. I gotta get out. I pack everything I need into a duffel I bought at Stanford’s five-and-dime. No idea why they still call it that. Nothing costs a five or a dime but traditions and throwbacks.

People think Witness Protection is the cake, or it only sucks because you gotta cut ties. Now, if you were Joe or Jane Citizen that might be the case. Because you came forward for the sole purpose of doing the right thing. They’ll get you a nice place, a good job and all that. But if you’re just a rat saving his own skin? You get a shithole and a job digging ditches. And what are you gonna do, leave? You just ratted someone out. Now, I ain’t scared of him, but rat-stink carries. And if you fuck up Witness Protection after the trial? They got what they wanted. They couldn’t care less.

I decide to shave quickly. I’m starting to think now. I put coffee on, but only for the smell of the percolating. Won’t have time to drink it. But the smell’s clearing my head. I shave the bloody stubble off and I scrub my face with a hand-towel. I think I got all the blood, but I change clothes to make sure.

It’s funny. Back in my heyday, I was meticulous about cleaning up my crime scenes. Getting sloppy wasn’t my thing. But when you’re killing folk, there’s always that one. That one guy who you knew would be home alone, but it turned out their kid was with them. And the kid was young, so you let him be. But it’s that one crime, that one slip, and you’re off your game.

When that idiot Lenny Salkes was vying for my job, and I started hearing about hits he did in my style, I saw my chance. A few extortions I had done where the statute of limitations hadn’t run out. I decided to extort a fed. They got me, and I traded me for something better; well, the new “me”.


I’m at the bus station, my ticket folded in my grip. I just lit up a cigarette, and I’m staring down Route 30 for my bus. One way to Indianapolis. From there, who knows? I hear a grunt at my blind side. I turn to see the Sheriff and two of his deputies.

“You gonna come quietly?” He said.

My face was flush. “For what?”

“We found Kenny,” the Sheriff said. “And a witness, said he saw you kill him.”

“Who saw me kill Kenny? I ask, as if I didn’t just admit that I knew he was dead.

“Let’s just say we got a DUI last night, and he was all too happy to horse-trade his testimony for his freedom.” The deputies are behind me, and I feel the clink of the cuffs.

“But you know all about that, don’t ya?” he added.

~ fin ~

Liam Sweeny is an author and short-story writer from upstate New York. His work has appeared online and in print in such periodicals as Thuglit, Pulp Modern, Spinetingler Magazine, All Due Respect and The Flash Fiction Offensive. His collection of shorts, Street Whispers, is available from most online retailers, and the latest in his Jack LeClere detective series, Presiding Over the Damned, will be available in August 2018 from Down & Out Books.