Cassie Boone steps in the diner. She blinks her eyes. Pancake special on the chalkboard. Taj is in a booth. Cassie walks over. She smells home fries. Taj looks up. He wipes his hands on a blue cloth napkin.

“You got it?”

Cassie nods; she leads the way down the back hall.

Taj says, “What’s your sister doing?”

“Studying computers.”

“In this day and age?” Taj sips from a glass of tomato juice. “McCormick says you owe him money.”

Cassie stops, looks at a black-and-white photo on the wall, the fog rolling in on the Golden Gate Bridge. She says, “McCormick is an idiot.”

They go out the backdoor. Cassie squints.

Little Five Points, Atlanta in August.

Cassie pats around for her shades but can’t find them. She walks to her red truck and pulls back the gray tarp.A sawed-off shotgun is in the bed.

Taj rubs his chin. “Hillbilly dueling pistol.” He wipes his forehead–sweats like a televangelist–sets the glass of tomato juice on the bumper, and picks up the sawed-off. He runs a finger down the barrel. “Where’d you get it?”

“My cat has diabetes.”

“Your cat has…what?”

“I need the money.”

Cassie opens her truck door, leans in, looks for her shades. She can’t find them. She pulls on a baseball hat and stands in the alley with a hand on her hip.

Taj sets the shotgun back in the bed.

A green-metallic Buick Riviera pulls into the alley.

Cassie Boone tugs at the brim of her cap.

The door opens and McCormick gets out. He stretches to his full thin height. He’s wearing a Miami Heat jersey, tatted to the gills, dark shades. He regards Cassie, runs a hand through his long hair, says, “Miss Boone.”

She says, “McCormick.”

“You are a snake in the grass Cassie.”

“You’re an idiot John.”

“You ripped me off.”

“My cat has diabetes.”

“Your cat has…what?”

“Her pancreas isn’t making enough ovaltine…or something.”

McCormick slides his shades on top of his head.

“And how is this my problem?”

“I’m going to pay you.”

“Damn straight.”

McCormick raises his right arm and extends a pistol. It is the Sig Sauer nine.

Taj dives behind the dumpster.

Cassie freezes in her boots.

McCormick fires and blows out her back window. He fires again.

Cassie goes down gushing blood. “I’m shot!”

Taj scoots out of the alley.

McCormick drops the gun.

Cassie puts a hand to her stomach. She moans and rolls. Her T-shirt is covered in red burning liquid. Cassie squints at the Atlanta sky pale beyond the cornices. She puts a finger in her mouth. Tomato juice. She jumps to her feet and grabs the cut-down shotgun. She steps to McCormick, boot heels hot in the gravel.

McCormick pedals back.

Cassie pumps the action on the shotgun. “You sumbuck!” She fires and blows out his windshield. She pumps and fires into his golden grill.

The green-metallic Buick Riviera shoots a geyser of steam.

“I was going to pay you!” Cassie Boone jumps in her truck and sticks her head out the window. “My cat has diabetes!”

She kicks it and burns out of the alley.

~ fin ~

Thomas McGauley lives in Ponce Inlet, Florida, and would like to thank his niece, Sophie, age five, without whose help this story would have been finished much earlier.