Two in the Streets


Two a.m., and last call was fifteen minutes ago. The slender guy at the bar paid with cash, peeling twenties off a thick wad that he stuffed back into the inner pocket of his cashmere coat. He looked around the bar and shook his head as if to clear it, and then he wobbled toward the door.

The wind grabbed the door out of his hand and he staggered going out into the January chill. The Rolex Oyster on his wrist caught the light as he went out and turned north up Second Ave. Wrong way, mister. Nothing up there except dark streets as empty as the eyes on a skull, all the way up to St. Vincent’s Hospital. I counted slowly to ten, then shrugged into my navy pea coat and left my last glass half-drunk on the table, weighing down a ten for the waitress.

By the time I hit the street, he was a block ahead of me, weaving all over the sidewalk, a drunk on his way home. He paused to lean against an old Honda Civic that was parallel-parked at the curb, and then he shook himself, raised his head, and walked on. I stayed in the shadows and moved along behind him. Watching. Waiting.

The two kids that came out of the alley were lean and hungry-looking. Greasy T-shirts, jack boots, dirty jeans If I’d been close enough to smell them, I knew they’d reek of weed or patchouli. The taller one had a hunting knife in his hand, and the polished steel blade caught the little ambient light there was and reflected it dully.

I skulked along under the awnings of the building, speeding up a little but not enough to make myself breathe hard in the cold night air. No reason to give myself away. Not yet.

I was close enough now that I could hear their conversation.

“–like a donation, you know,” the shorter one said and grinned at his buddy. “A little something to keep us poor orphans warm on a cold night like this.”

The man in the cashmere coat wasn’t having it.

“Leave me alone,” he said. “I’m just looking for a good time.”

“You found one,” the wolf with the knife growled. I was close enough now that I could see the pitted acne scars on his face. He held the blade low, cutting edge up, like he knew how to use it. He jabbed it toward the man, his face breaking into leering grin.

“Come on,” the shorter one said. “Let’s just get the money.”

“We take the money, and maybe take a piece of him, too. He could ID us.”

“He’s drunk, he ain’t gonna ID shit.” He turned to the wobbly man in cashmere, who seemed to pull himself up to his full height. “Come on, man. Give us the fuckin’ money.”

“I’m not drunk,” the drunk said. His voice sounded full of righteous indignation, and I grinned a little. I’d been there myself. I flipped the tail of my pea coat up and put my right hand in my back pocket.

The one with the knife made a come on, come on gesture with the blade, and I saw the drunk’s hands go up, saw his hand dip into the coat pocket.

Good, I thought. Give them what they want. Give me time.

But the gun that came out of the jacket wasn’t what either of those kids wanted. The first shot rolled like hard thunder along the buildings, and I could barely hear the clatter of the knife as it hit the concrete sidewalk. The next shot followed less than a second later, and then both bodies were sprawled on the concrete. The slender man in the cashmere coat stood there for a moment, the gun seemingly forgotten in his hand. Then he put it away and walked on up the street.

He wasn’t weaving anymore.

I still had my hand in my hip pocket, my fingers curled around the cold metal of my Birmingham PD detective’s shield. I left it in my pocket and came out of the shadows to stare down at the men lying dead on the street.

~ 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.