Writing on the Wall


When the sky cried tears and washed away the blood he thanked it knowing it had heard him.

He’d kissed them goodbye with bullets of love.

Up close and personal.

They never even saw it coming.

It was done before they could have even envisaged it in a nightmare.

Their faces were a picture, their choices a collage of indulgence.

Their friends had painted rest in peace slogans on the red brick alley walls in white spray.

Locals had paid their respects with bouquets of flowers in a multicolour of homage at the killing site.

Most of them did so to revel in goodbye.

Relief not tears.

Checking they were really gone.

The drug pushers and the thieves. The pimps and the gunmen. Corpses piling up in the back streets of Canal City. A monster hunting the monsters. On the loose. Waiting in the shadows.

He zipped up his fluorescent jacket as the wind picked up, slanting the torrential rain westward. Dragging his metropolitan borough council issue brush beside the curb to sweep the cigarette butts, litter and brittling leaves, his gaze drifted from  the ‘march on street soldier’ and ‘heroes never die’ slogans to the pack of three denim and hood attired young men lining the latest death spot. They made signs of the cross and muttered between themselves. The taller of the three turned and stared at the street cleaner, jabbered at his companions, then walked towards him as the silver stripes of his coat dazzled sporadically as car headlights sped by.

“Cleaner man, me and my boys want to hire your services. You’re doing a good job and we want it to continue around this street. Keep the memorial nice and tidy. Fit for the legend that fell here.”

The street cleaner considered the man. He guessed late teens by the light patchy stubble on the jaw. Innocence lost long before manhood indicated by the two tears roughly tattooed on his left cheekbone. He replied, “I never heard anything about a legend, lad. Nothing about a hero or soldier either. A killer alright, not a soldier though. Never a hero.’’

“That right? What have you heard then?”

“I’ve heard the bastard who died here had shot four people dead. In the back aswell, according to the papers. Fancy solicitor gets him off because the cops messed up the handling of evidence. Guilty as sin and free to walk. Shocking. A killer. No hero’’. His eyes narrowed on the young man’s frowning expression.

“So fucking what? The game we’re in, they have to go down if they want to try and take our territory.”

“One of the lads shot was nowt to do with your game though was he. Just a young lad on the way home from college. Cross fire, collateral damage I think it’s called. I call it senselessness. Your man is no legend, no hero, just another selfish braindead bastard off the streets”. He said with a swift smirk.

The other hoods shouted over to say they were leaving. Tattoo cheek told them to go with a swing of an arm and turned back to the road sweeper. “You watch your fucking mouth. You keep talking like that and you’ll end up collateral damage too. The man deserves respect, you’d best remember that. Else you’ll be in an alley, won’t be flowers though, just piss”, he shouted.

“Doctors, nurses, police, armed forces, lollipop ladies, cleaners, bin men, ambulance crew, prison officers. They’re your heroes lad. They’re your fucking heroes. Not a drug pushing bastard who pollutes the streets for layabouts like you to worship because you want a few quid without putting honest graft in for it”, he boomed back, throwing the broom onto the cobbles.

Tattoo cheek screwed up his face, “Who do you think you’re badmouthing? Dead men can’t defend themselves so I’ll have to do it on his behalf won’t I”, he spat as he shot out a straight right.

The road sweeper blocked the punch with his left, slid out the knife from his right sleeve and plunged it below the ribcage with the serrated edge downward, ripping sinew. Tattoo cheek  weakened, drooled blood and collapsed, was dragged by his hood to the wall and sat up beneath the spray paint. The road sweeper looked around the deserted alley way, snapped a red Carnation from its stem and stuck it in the open mouth of the stiffening corpse, leaving the eye lids open. He wiped the knife on the side of his jacket and looked at the heavens.

The black clouds made a blanket of the horizon, showing no sign of passing.

Bullets of love.

A blade of revenge.

Rivulets of diluting crimson streamed down his coat as the downpour pattered heavily.

As the sky cried tears and washed away the blood he thanked it knowing it had heard him.

~ fin ~

 L.A. Sykes is from Atherton, Greater Manchester, UK. He is the author of the short story collection Noir Medley and the novella The Hard Cold Shoulder published by Close to the Bone. His next book is coming out in April 2020.