At the Docks (an excerpt from an as-yet-unwritten story)

The neon of the Save-On sign glowed hotly outside Derek’s window bathing him in a ruddy glow.

(Was it neon? Did they still use that stuff? Eh, no matter.)

He’d been waiting hours for Jimmy to show. The punk called near one in the afternoon to say he had the stuff. What the hell was wrong with him?

Shit. Ever since high school the kid had been a loser. Probably Derek’s fault if this didn’t go down right. His mother always used to bitch about his friends. She liked to tell him what shitheads they were. (her word) Derek blew it off, figured his old lady just enjoyed the sound of her voice and needed to put him down in order to make her life more acceptable. Fuck her. She never did anything for Derek while he was living at home, and she damn well never did nothing for him now that he was on his own. Fuckin’ families.

The neon blinked out dropping Derek into a scratchy black and white film. It was eleven o’clock. He would have to go looking for Jimmy now. Nothing good could come of this.

Derek’s footsteps echoed in his ears as he marched down the vacant sidewalks. It was early fall and he stuffed his hands deep in his pockets, pulling his arms close against his body and the chill air.

Passing an alley, he could hear a voice calling out. The words were tough to catch but didn’t sound good. He considered stopping to see what it was, but thought better of it. That way only led to ruin. Sticking his nose into other people’s business, that wasn’t Derek’s idea of smart. He preferred to continue getting around on two healthy legs rather than with a wheelchair, and usually – especially at this hour – barging in on another’s “good” time meant a whole lot of hurt for the one doing the barging. So Derek kept walking, and after a couple of blocks he’d washed the incident from his mind.

Five more blocks and Derek could smell the salt hanging in the air. The docks were up ahead, the clanging of buoys wrapped around the warehouses, dulled the sound of his steps in Derek’s ears. He reached inside his jacket for his shirt pocket, found it empty, cursed under his breath. He really needed a cigarette.

Time seemed to slow down as Derek came out to the docks, harshly lit as the night crew unloaded one of the large haulers at the far end. This was where Jimmy liked to come and find his fix. Derek didn’t understand the affinity, especially this late at night. No matter how long the punk had been coming here for his tar without incident, eventually it would end badly.

“Hey!” Derek nearly jumped out of his shoes, his spine shivering as his legs locked. It only took a second to recognize Jimmy’s voice, but in that second Derek thought his life was over. Fuckin’ shit.

Derek turned around and peered into the darkness. The only indication anybody was standing next to the large building was the pinprick of light burning from the end of his friend’s cancer stick. “What the hell are you doing? You were supposed to be at my place hours ago. Now I gotta come out in the fuckin’ cold lookin’ for you. What the fuck is that?”

“Hey, hey, hey. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, “Deeker.” I just needed a fix, stop my hands from shakin’ was all. I didn’t mean to be late. Just happened that way. But don’t worry, I got your stuff.” Jimmy sidled over to where Derek was still standing. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out a manila envelope, fat and taped all over.

“Give me that!” Derek snatched the package from Jimmy, dropping it against his leg as he glowered at his friend.

All Jimmy could do was smile and take another tug of his cigarette. Letting the smoke seep from the edge of his mouth, Jimmy tapped off the ashes, watched them fall, and then looked up into Derek’s face. “Before you ask. And I know you want to, but I hope you’re a little smarter than that. Before you ask, it’s all there, every last one.”

Derek opened his mouth, but stopped short of uttering anything. Instead he pocketed the envelope and reached out to Jimmy. His friend returned the gesture, offering a smoke with one hand as he shook Derek’s with the other. Derek accepted the cigarette, lighting it off the one Jimmy already had going.

“Thanks, man.” Derek took a long haul, letting the smoke roll over his tongue and up through his nose, scraping away the anxiety that had settled in his gut. Reaching out one more time to Jimmy, he puffed hard on the cigarette and told Jimmy, “I gotta run. Cindy expected me at eight and I’m fucking horny after waiting for you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Go get your little weenie kissed and call it good. I’ll see you tomorrow.

“And don’t forget the money from the sale,” Jimmy added, pointing to the bulge now under Derek’s jacket.

“No worries. I’ll have it when you finally get your sorry ass out of bed.”

“I figure – why waste the night when you can sleep all day?” said Jimmy as he stretched his arms wide and threw his head back, staring at the black sky above.

“Whatever,” replied Derek as he began his trek back the way he’d come in.

It was less than a minute later – Derek had just crossed into the shadows – when he heard shots ring out. Four in quick succession. He turned to see what had happened, and for a second couldn’t focus on what was different about the scene. Then he saw it, twitching on the ground where he’d just been standing. Jimmy’d been shot.

Derek took one step forward, then stopped. Looking down he made sure he hadn’t walked back into the light. Then he did what came naturally to him. Derek turned and he ran, his feet beating the pavement. Crossing back to the city proper, he fell back under the illumination of the street lights. He looked back once to see if anyone was trailing him, but there was nobody following. Returning his gaze to the streets ahead, Derek tried to regulate his breathing, hoping he could make it all the way back without collapsing. He made the opposite side of the street, rounded a Chevy parked at the corner, and tried to put on a burst of speed. He needed to get some distance between him and whoever killed Jimmy.

Derek didn’t hear the shots that took him down. He had no time to regret coming to the docks. No time to lament the fact he would never see Cindy again, never have a chance to kiss her lips again. In less than a second the first bullet shattered the back of his skull, drove through his brain, and Derek was no more.

Less than three minutes later two men wearing dark suits came up to where Derek lay, a halo of blood pooling around his head. The taller of the two kicked the limp body over with his foot while the other bent down and searched inside Derek’s jacket.

“Fuck,” cursed the shorter one.

“What is it?”

“He ain’t got the package.”

There was a long pause.

“Fuck us.”

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