Zero Tolerance


Walt Cranmore walked into the Cranmore Construction supply room and stood in front of Joe and Will. He looked at the two men standing behind them, aiming .38 snub-noses at their backs.

He looked straight at Joe.  Joe looked down. He held his posture straight, kept his arms at his sides.

Fifteen seconds went by. Thirty seconds.

“Look at me, Joe.”

His voice chilled Joe to the marrow. Joe looked up. Walt Cranmore wore a calm expression.

“Joe, you gave me your word that your friend here was a solid guy—trustworthy. Now I’m hearing otherwise. I hear that he’s been skimming the batches you two have been cooking and trying to sell it to other businesses over in Dryden.”

“Yeah, so what if I did?”

Joe looked over at Will—he was standing with one leg straight, one bent, both hands in his pockets.

“It’s our product, man. We cooked it—we can sell it to whoever we want.”

Joe said “Shut the fuck up” through clenched teeth. “Mr. Cranmore, I am so sorry about this. You have my word–”

“What, that he won’t do it again?”

Walt Cranmore walked over to an open toolbox and reached in.

“You’re right—he won’t.”

His hand came out holding an old box cutter. He placed it on the ground and kicked it across the cement floor. It stopped at Joe’s feet. Joe heard the beeping of cell phone buttons behind him.

“You know what to do, Joe.”

Joe’s heart pounded. He shook his head.


The man behind Joe stepped into his peripheral vision and held out the cell phone for him to take. Joe took it and looked at the screen. Sarah’s cell number had been punched in.

Walt Cranmore said “Call it, Joe.”

“Mr. Cranmore, please. I promise—“

“Call it.”

Joe hesitated, then hit ‘Send’. He held the phone to his ear. Someone answered. He heard a muffled voice, and behind it a baby crying. He heard the sound of tape ripping.


“Joe? Oh, my God, Joe. What’s–?”

            Her voice was muffled again. Joe’s arm dropped to the side. The phone fell out of his hand and hit the ground. He looked at Walt Cranmore. Walt Cranmore looked back.

“Not such a hard decision now, is it?”

Joe’s eyes became hot with tears. He looked over at Will.

“What’s going on?”

“This is because of you.”

“Joe, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“I should have never brought you in on this.”

Joe saw Will’s eyes dart toward the box cutter. Will had just started diving for it when Joe pile-drove into him. Will broke Joe’s fall. Joe scrambled to his feet. Will remained on the floor. There was a dazed look in his eyes and a thin stream of blood trickling out from the back of his head. One of Walt Cranmore’s men pulled him up and held him by the shoulders.

Walt Cranmore said “Go on, Joe. Think of your family.”

Joe picked up the box cutter. It felt cold and heavy. There was barely any strength in his hand, but he managed to push the blade out. The man holding Will grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back to expose the jugular.

Joe’s hand shook. He started sobbing. His breaths got shorter and quicker. He held the blade to Will’s throat and closed his eyes.  eHhjhhsss


He felt Will’s blood spray across his face. He dropped the box cutter. He tried not to listen to the sounds of Will struggling and dying. A minute later, the sounds stopped.

Joe went numb inside. He turned and looked at Walt Cranmore.

“Good job, Joe. It’s like I told you when you started working for me—zero tolerance for those who make mistakes.”

Walt Cranmore nodded to the man behind Joe. The man stepped in front of Joe, put the .38 snub-nose to his chest and pulled the trigger.

Walt Cranmore stood over Joe as he lay gasping, the life draining away from his body. He held up the cell phone Joe had dropped, pushed the speaker-phone button and said “Do it.”

Sarah’s muffled screaming came through over the speaker. There was a single gunshot. Her screaming stopped. Now there was only the crying of Joe’s infant son. There was another gunshot. The crying stopped.

“Zero, Joe.”

Joe’s body went limp and the world faded out.

~ fin ~

Russell Coy lives in Northern Indiana. When he's not making funny voices for his daughter or watching the clock at his factory job, he can be found reading or chiseling away at his first novel, which he expects to finish sometime before meth becomes legal again.