One in the Chamber


The stick was a .380, six in the magazine and one in the chamber. I stole it from a middle-class house in a middle-class town nobody’s ever heard of, walked around with it in my pocket for a while until Montez said he had something cooking.

Montez usually had an angle, and it always involved money. We’d worked together before and always come out bucks-up and clean with the cops. I listened to his latest pitch, and it sounded good.

Of course it did. Wrap the poison pill inside something sweet so it goes down easier.

Three on the job. Jimmy drove for twenty-five percent. Montez and I were down to split the bigger slice—we carried the weight. In and out of the bank in three minutes, carrying bags that bulged with cash as we sprinted for the corner where Jimmy waited with the Charger in gear and his foot barely holding the brake.

Ten feet away, Montez pulled up short and turned so fast I nearly plowed into him.

“Come on,” I said, breath like harsh smoke in my lungs. Tried to push him toward the waiting car. “Go.”

Montez turned and brought up his stick, a big .40 caliber semi-auto. The bore looked big enough to carry my coffin. He squeezed the trigger and nothing happened. His eyes went wide behind the ski mask and he tried to speak. My own gun came level and I flicked the safety and fired one round into his chest.

He went down, a drunk fighter collapsing in the late rounds, and I emptied the clip into him, rage buzzing in my head like bees inside a fresh-kicked hive.

I put the .380 away and grabbed the bag of money he’d been carrying and hauled ass for the car. The brake lights were off and the car was already rolling when I caught the door and yanked it open.

“Throw ‘em in the back,” Jimmy yelled, but I got myself inside first in case he wanted to take off without me. By the time I slammed the passenger door, he had the accelerator to the floor and we were doing sixty toward the interstate. My hands shook and my eyes felt like they’d jitterbug right out of my head.

“What the fuck happened, man?” Jimmy wasn’t looking at me. He had eyes for the road and nothing else. “You guys are booking it, next thing I know you’re shooting my man in the head. What the fuck?”

I couldn’t process it, either. Montez. We went to school together, hung out on the same corners. I knew his Ma, and he knew mine. He was her only boy. I closed my eyes and thought about how she’d take the news. Probably no worse than mine would have.

“I don’t know,” I said at last. “He tried to kill me.”

Jimmy’s mouth drew down in a tight line that could have garroted him if it had been any lower.

I closed my eyes again. When I opened them, we were southbound on I-65, barely under the speed limit. I cranked my seat back so he looked like the only person in the car. Three SUVs with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring came tear-assing down the highway. Jimmy pulled over and let them pass, like everyone else on the road. They never even glanced at us.

Jimmy took the next exit and found a secluded little church. Windows broken out and a door sagging like a loose tooth hanging by a thread. He parked in the gravel lot behind the building and let the engine idle. I almost got out and walked away.

“Lucky,” he said, shaking his head. “Lucky as a bastard.”

I didn’t feel lucky. I didn’t feel much of anything.

Jimmy brought out his own gun, and slow creeping sickness overcame me.

“Slow,” he said. “Bring it out slow.”

I did. Left the stick on the floorboard. Empty anyway. No use to anyone.

He made me get out, keeping the gun trained on me the whole time. Backed out, sprayed gravel, and sped away. The car got smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it anymore.

~ fin ~


Bobby Mathews is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, and journalist who calls Birmingham home. His short story, “Negative Tilt” won the 2023 Derringer Award for “Best Long Story,” while his novel Living the Gimmick and short story “The Ghost of Buxahatchee Creek” each won top honors in the Alabama Media Professionals 2023 contest. His most recent novel, Magic City Blues, has earned rave reviews for its hard-hitting action, keen dialogue, and artful depiction of Birmingham. His next book, Negative Tilt: Stories, is forthcoming in March 2024 from Shotgun Honey Books. When he’s not writing, Bobby is procrastinating.