Then: Same As Now


There are truths to this world. Most are what they should be: universal. Others, however, can be circumvented, allowing men like me to not only flourish, but thrive.

It means the list of names we pull from McDonough and a bent cop named Stout works better than I’d hoped. Not perfect by any means, as two of the nine proved beyond our reach, and it still takes close to a year to track each of them down.

“This is going to end how you think it will, Paul. I believe you know this. The question I want you thinking about, though, is this: will Ray here start cutting something other than that rope before it does?”

Ray sucks his teeth and hunkers down in front of the older man’s head. The tanned face looking up at Ray’s angular one is stubbled, sweating, and sporting two veins competing for dominance across a forehead that, if pressed, could house about twenty-seven more. “Anything! I’ll do anything!” Of course he would. Strung up as he was, up and over the end of an old silo, tends to do that I’d found. Especially where people like Paul J. Garth were concerned.

Full disclosure: this early into things, I’d only used this property one other time. But the pulley system Garth found himself dangling from? Built and erected by Ray himself. Wouldn’t be the last time Ray built me something either, most of these future upgrades coming to reside within the basement of a very particular house.

“I’m a simple man, Paul,” Ray says, and taking the man by his right ear, pulls him back in past the edge. The breeze freshens here, and the sun, it has almost put itself to bed. “Like Bishop said, I believe in what we’re doing–that this has to be done. It means I do feel like something more is required before we watch your bones erupt from your skin, but instead, Paul, I’m going to make you a deal.”

“Anything! Anything!” 

But Paul, he doesn’t care for what he hears. Neither do I.  Not really. But things need to be said aloud sometimes. Like memories, they need to exist.

“Eleven pounds is what that child weighed, Paul. You admit that, I let you keep this ear.” But Paul continues in his ways. His denial coming in heads shakes, body bucks, and deep throated moans not many men get to hear. Some spittle too, of course, traveling far up the man’s cheeks but alas, never reaching his eyes. Yet he would not mention the microwave. Nor the meth he copped to in his original statement—the one where he gave up his thoughts on how he knew his then girlfriend had been holding out on him.

It’s unfortunate. All of it. And as I look to Ray, to the Ray of my past, his head still intact and unblemished by the machetes that would come to remove it, I see he’s reached the same conclusion. And I’d like to say it was all Garth’s doing, but I can’t. Not how I’d like. 

It was me, what I was; what I’d been forced to become.

I’d grown accustomed to it. Perhaps I even craved it. Making me no better than the men I had already ruined and the ones I’d yet to. But it did something else as well, even way back then.  It allowed me to function in a world where as much as I fought to believe otherwise, certain truths remained as ignored as they were hidden.

I was done observing rules that benefited those who did not deserve them in other words.

I was done leaving messages behind.

And as I cut through the rope connecting Garth to the world, I take a moment—not only to watch and listen to how the concrete destroys him, but to realize I’d not only embraced what I’d become, but that I enjoyed it. And that back then, same as now, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I was what I needed to be. I remain what I need to be.

I would burn them all.

~ fin ~


Beau Johnson is the author of the Bishop Rider Books.  A Better Kind Of Hate, The Big Machine Eats, All Of Them To Burn, Brand New Dark, and coming this October from Down and Out Books, Old Man Rider, Beau’s last published book.  He lives in Canada with his wife and three boys and wants you to know it’s been an honor as much as it’s been a blast.  Long live crime fiction.  Long live the dark stuff.