/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Bullets and Fire

Joe Lansdale

"Dad told me once, that if people don't care about where they live, the way they act, people they associate with, they get lost in the dark, can't find their way back cause there's no light left. I had taken a pretty good step into the shadows tonight." It's payback time, in this short story by Joe R. Lansdale.

Bullets and Fire

A Short Story

by Joe R. Lansdale

I was asked if I would like to write a really hardboiled story for a magazine, and I thought, why yeah. The story idea popped into my head in a flash. I was trying to write a story that dealt with revenge, and how far anger and the desire for revenge could take you, but mostly what I wanted was to be entertaining. BULLETS AND FIRE is, I hope, just that. Fast paced, dark, redemptive, and full of action.

I don’t remember a lot about the writing of this one, only that it came fast and furious. I couldn’t put the words down fast enough. I was typing so fast, I thought I was going to break a finger. I love it when I get a gift from the gods like that. It doesn’t always happen that way. But when it does, I embrace it.

Joe R. Lansdale

I HAD HIT the little girl pretty hard, knocking her out, and maybe breaking something, messing her nose up for sure, but for me, it was worth it.

I sat at the table in the bar and smelled the sour beer and watched some drunks dance in the thin blue light from behind the bar. I was sitting with Juan and Billy, and Juan said to me, “You see our reasoning, you gonna get in with us, you got to show what you got, and fighting a guy, that shows you’re some kind of tough, but hitting a girl like that, her what, twelve or thirteen, way you smoked her, now that shows you don’t give a damn. That you ain’t gonna back up if we say what needs to be done you’ll just do it. That’s the way you get in with us, bro.”

“Yeah,” Billy said, “it makes you tough to fight a guy, brave maybe, but to hit someone like that you don’t know, just someone we pick on the street, and to savage her up like that, my man, that’s where the real stones is cause it goes against… What is it I’m looking for here, Juan?”

“What mommy and daddy taught?” Juan said.

“Shit,” Billy said, “my daddy hit me so much, I thought that was how you started and ended the day.”

“Hell,” Juan said. “I don’t know. You guys want some more beers?”

I sat there and thought about what I had done. Just got out of the car when they told me, and there was this young girl on the sidewalk, a backpack on. I could still see how she looked at me, and I was just going to hit her once, you know, to knock her out, a good blow behind the ear, but nothing too savage, and then I got to thinking, these guys are going to take me in, they want to see something good. I did what had to be done. I beat her up pretty good and then I took her wallet. I started to take the backpack, but I couldn’t figure on there being anything in that I’d want. But she had little wallet that was on a wrist strap, and she ought not to have been wearing like that, where it could be seen. Someone should have told her better.

Juan came back with some beers and a bowl of peanuts and we sat and drank some beer and ate the peanuts. I like peanuts.

I touched my shirt and felt something wet, and started to wipe it, but then I realized it was sticky. The girl’s blood. I wiped it on my pants. It was dark in there, and wasn’t anyone able to see much that mattered.

I watched some more couples get up and start dancing to the music on the jukebox, moving around in that blue light to a Smokey Robinson tune. My dad had always liked that song, about seconding and emotion. Billy said, “You know, even being a black man myself, I don’t like it when they play that old nigger music. How about you, Tray, you like that old nigger shit?”

I did, and I didn’t lie about it. “Yeah. I like soul fine. I like it a lot.”

Billy shook his head. “I don’t know, it’s all kind of mellow and shit. I like a nigger can talk some shit, you know, rap it out.”

“All sounds like a hammer beating on tin to me,” I said. “This stuff, it’s got some meat to it, cooked up good, plenty of steak, not just a bunch of fucking sizzle.”

“He told you,” Juan said. “One nigger to another. He told you good.”

“Yeah, well, I guess nothing says we got to like the same stuff, but that’s all Uncle Tom jive shit to me. A little too educated, not street enough.”

I remembered what my brother Tim said to me once, “Don’t let these neighborhood losers talk you down. Education hasn’t got a color. Money, it’s all green, and education, it gets you the money. It gets you something better than a long list of stick ups and stolen money. You got to have pride, brother. Real pride. Like daddy had.”

Daddy had worked some shit ass jobs to help us make it. Mama died when we were young, fell down some stairs, drunk, broke her neck. Daddy, he didn’t want us to end up drinking and fighting and getting our selves in trouble the same way. He tried to raise us right, told us to get an education. That’s what Tim had done, got an education. He’d gone straight, done good. I loved Tim. He was a proud man. Well, boy, really. He wasn’t much older than me. Twenty-two when it was all over for him. When I thought of him, what I thought of was a proud man, and I hated he was gone.

Me, tonight, I wasn’t so proud. I’d beat that girl good and taken her little pink wallet from the pocket of her dress. A pink wallet, that when you opened it and folded it out, had some pictures, some odds and ends and five dollars.

“So, you guys, to get in with the gang, you do something like you had me do tonight,” I said.

I knew the answer to that, but I was just making conversation.

“Yeah, well, we did one together,” Juan said. He was Mexican and almost as dark skinned as me, and that’s pretty damn dark. All I could see of him really was his teeth in the blue light from behind the bar. He said, “We did a guy, me and Billy. Did him good.”

“So you do a guy, and then you have me do a girl, and you tell me that’s the way to do it? What about the rest of the gang? Any of them do like I did?”

“Sometimes, something like it,” Billy said. “We had one boy who loved dogs, we had him shoot his own dog. Pet it on the head and open its mouth and stick a gun in there and shoot him. Shot came out that dog’s ass, ain’t kidding you. Went through that dog’s ass and through a wall in the guy’s house and knocked a lamp over.”

“I think the bullet went in there and hit the end table,” Juan said. “I think the table jarred and the lamp fell off.”

“Whatever.” Billy said. “You know what, that guy, he don’t stay in the gang long. He shoots himself. Found him dead, laying over his dog’s grave. That’s no shit. Can you imagine that, getting that way with a dog? You got your gang, and your family, and everything else, that’s just everything else, and that includes dogs or the fucking kitty.”

“So I beat up a girl and this guy shot a dog, and you guys did a guy, so now we’re all equal. That the way it works?”

Juan shook his head. “Well, you got to do something to get in, but we did something big, and that made us kind of lieutenants. You, you’re just like a private. But you’re in, man. You’re in.”

“Mostly,” Billy said.

“The gang, they still got to have a look at you, and our main man, he’s got to give you the okay.”

“So what did you do?” I said. “I’ve heard around, but I was wondering I could get it from you.”

Juan sipped his beer. “Sure,” he said.

Billy said, “Way we did the guy was the thing.”

“We may be small town, baby,” Juan said, “one hundred thousand on the pop sign, but we got our turf and we got our ways, and we did that boy good.”

“He was young, maybe about your age,” Billy said. “Age we are now. He worked at a little corner grocery, was a grocery boy.”

“What grocery?” I said.

“One around the corner, just a half block from here,” Billy said. “Or was around the corner. Ain’t no more. There’s a big burn spot where it used to be.”

Billy and Juan laughed and put their fists together.

“You mean the Clement Grocery?” I said.

“That’s it,” Billy said. “Guess it was, let me see, how long we been in the gang, Juan?”

“Three years come October,” Juan said.

“I know the place,” I said. “Course, I’m pretty new here now, but I used to live here, when I was younger, so I know the place. I didn’t live far from here.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “Where?”

“I don’t remember exactly, but not far from the grocery. I used to go there. I don’t remember where I lived though, not exactly. Not far from here, though.”

“You ain’t that old, you remember the grocery, you got to remember where you lived,” Billy said.

“I could probably find the place, just don’t remember the street number. You took me around, I could find it. But, man, I don’t give a shit. This thing you did with the grocery boy. Tell me about that.”

“We should have left that grocery and the kid alone,” Juan said. “It was a good place to get stuff quick, and now we got to go way around just to buy some Cokes. But, man, what we did, it was tough. We was gonna be in the gang, you see, and the Headmaster, which is what he calls himself, ain’t that something, Headmaster? Anyway, he says we got to do something on the witchy side, so we went and got a hammer and nails, and when we got there, the kid was working in the store, and the place was empty, just goddamn perfect.”

“Perfect,” Billy said.

“So we got hold of the kid and while Billy held him under the arms, I got my knee on his foot, and got a big ole nail I had brought, and with the hammer, I drove it right through his foot and nailed him to the floor.”

“He screamed so loud I thought we was caught for sure,” Billy said. “But nobody come running. They must have not heard him, or knew it was best to pretend they didn’t.”

“Fucker kicked me with his other leg, two, three times. And I just hammered the shit out of his leg and Billy couldn’t hold him anymore, and he fell over, and then I kicked him a bit and he quit struggling, but he was plenty alive.”

“That’s what makes what happened next choice,” Billy said. “We put some boxes of popcorn on him and then we set fire to the place.”

“You forget, I nailed his other foot to the floor.”

“That’s right,” Billy said. “You did.”

“He was so weak from the kicking we had given him, and all the blood that had filled up his shoe and was running out over the top of it, he didn’t know I was doing what I was doing until the nail went in.”

“He really screamed that time,” Billy said.

Juan nodded. “That’s when we got the popcorn, bunch of other stuff and started the fire. We ran out of there and across the street and in the alley. We could hear that kid screaming across the street, but nobody came. A light went on in a couple windows of buildings where people lived upstairs, but nobody came.”

“Fire took quick,” Billy said. “We were so close, and if I’m lying, I’m dying, we could hear that popcorn popping and him still screaming. And then we saw the flames licking out of the open doorway, and then we saw the kid. He had got his feet free, probably tore the nails right through them, and he was crawling out the door, but he was all on fire. Looked like that Fantastic Four guy. What’s his name, The Flame.”

“The Human torch,” Juan said. “Don’t you know nothing?”

“Yeah, him,” Billy said. “Anyway, he didn’t crawl far before that fire got him and then we finally did hear some sirens, and we got out of there.”

“Last look I got of that kid, he wasn’t nothing but a fucking charcoal stick,” Juan said.

“That’s what got us in the gang,” Billy said. “And the Headmaster, he said it was a righteous piece of witchiness, and we was in, big time. You sweating, man?”

I nodded. “A little. I got a cold coming on.”

“Well, don’t give it to me,” Juan said. “I can’t stand no cold right now. I hate those things. So stay back some.”

“This Headmaster, he got a name?” I asked.

“Everyone calls him Slick when they don’t call him Headmaster,” Billy said. “Shit, I don’t even know what his real name is, or even if he’s got one. He’s maybe nearly twenty-six, twenty-seven years old. It don’t matter none to you, though. You done done your thing to get in, and we’re witnesses.”

“Once you’re in,” Juan said, “no one much fucks with you. It’s like a license to do what you want. Even the cops are afraid of us. They know we find out who they are and where they live, we might give them or their little straight families a visit.”

“Gang is the only way to live around here,” Billy said. “Get what you want, feel protected, you got to have the gang, cause without it, man. You’re just on your own.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know what that’s like, being on my own. So, I’m in. I’ve done my deed and I’m proud of it, and I want in.”

· · ·

WE WENT OUT OF THERE and around the corner and walked a few blocks to where the gang had their headquarters. I thought about the streets and how dark they were and figured that fast as the streetlights got repaired, someone shot them out. Maybe the city was never going to repair them again. Maybe they had had enough.

Dad told me once, that if people don’t care about where they live, the way they act, people they associate with, they get lost in the dark, can’t find their way back cause there’s no light left.

I had taken a pretty good step into the shadows tonight.

There was an old burnt out building at the end of the block and we went past that and turned right and there was this old bowling alley. The sign for METRO BOWLING was still there, but there was nothing metro about the place. The outside smelled like urine and there was some glass framed in the doorway and it was cracked. When we got to the doorway, Juan beat on the frame with his fist, and after a moment the door opened slightly, and a young white woman with long black hair showed her face. Juan said something I wasn’t listening for, and then we were inside. The girl turned and walked away and I saw she had an automatic in her hand, just hanging there like it was some kind of jewelry. Juan gave her a slap on the ass. She didn’t even seem to notice.

The place stank. You could hear music in the back. Rap, and there was also some good hip hop going, all of it kind of running together, and there were quite a few people in there. The floors where the bowling alley had been were still being used for bowling. Gang members, most of them dressed so you knew they were in a gang, flying their freak flags, were rolling balls down the wooden pathways, knocking down pins. The little pin machine was working just fine and it picked up the pins and carried them away and reset them. The alleys were no longer shiny and there were little nicks in the wood here and there and splinters stuck up in places as if the floor was offering tooth picks.

In front of the bowling alleys were racks for shoes, but there weren’t any shoes in them. Some of the gang members were wearing bowling shoes, and some weren’t. The clack and clatter of the balls as the machine puked them up and slammed them together made my ears hurt. Over near the far wall a big black guy had this Asian girl shoved up against the wall, so that both her palms were on it. She had her ass to him and her pants were down and so were his. What they were doing wouldn’t pass for bowling, though balls were involved.

“That there is B.G. He’s slamming him some nook,” Billy said.

“I kind of figured that’s what was going on,” I said.

We went past them and around a corner and into a back room. There was a desk there, and a guy that looked older than the others was sitting behind the table and he had a big bottle of Jack Daniels in front of him. He was a white guy with some other blood in him, maybe black, maybe all kinds of things, and he was sitting there looking at me with the coldest black eyes I’ve ever seen. They looked like the twin barrels of shotguns. He grinned at Billy and Juan and showed me some grillwork on his teeth, and the grillwork was silver and shiny and had what looked like diamond in them. For all I knew they were paste or glass.

On his right side was a young white girl who wasn’t bad looking except for a long scar on her cheek, and on her right hand side was a guy who looked as if he might like to eat me and spit me out. On Grillwork’s left was a husky looking Hispanic guy with eyes so narrow they looked like slits.

“So, you got a wayward soldier,” Grillwork said.

“That’s right, and we known him now a couple weeks, and he’s been wanting in, talking to us, walking around with us some, and he did some righteous business tonight,” Juan said.

“No shit,” Grillwork said. “What’d he do?”

Billy told him and Grillwork nodded like he had just been told I had invented time travel.

“That’s good,” Grillwork said. “That’s real good. So you wanting in, huh?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I want in. I thought I was in. I did what was asked.”

“Well, that’s a beginning,” Grillwork said. “You showed some stones doing something like that.”

I didn’t think it had taken that much in the way of stones. She was a kid, something a high wind could knock over.

“Sit the fuck down, man,” Grillwork said. “What’s your name?”

I sat in the chair in front of the table and told him my name.

“What you want in for,” Grillwork asked.

“I don’t have a family. It’s tough to make it in this town. Jobs bore me.”

“All right, all right,” Grillwork nodded. “You got to understand some things. You come in, you got to stay in. You want to get out, well, you get out all right, but all the way and pretty goddamn final. No final. Not pretty final. Final. Savvy?”

I nodded.

“You get in, we got work of our own, but it’s different. You do stuff that makes money by taking other people’s money. We sell some chemicals, man. Got our own lab.”

“Meth?” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Now and again, we deal in some weed and some pussy, but mostly we got the meth. You pick dough up on the side, that’s yours, but not by selling chemicals, man. The mind mixer business, that’s all ours, and I find you dipping your dick into that, you’ll wind up in a ditch with flies on your face. Got me?”

I nodded again.

“You can’t run your own string of whores, lessen’ you hook up with some gal will pull the train for the club, then go out there and lube some johns. You got that understood?”

“I do.”

“All right, the things on the side, you can do what you want to the citizens, you know. I don’t care you rob them or rape them or whatever, but you get caught and dragged down town, not a thing we can do. But there is this. Cops, on our turf, which is about twelve blocks, almost square, cause it’s got an old park in it that fucks up the square thing, makes it like a square with an addition—“

“Who gives a shit,” the girl next to him said. “Just tell him what you’re gonna tell him.”

Grillwork looked at her, and she looked back. Her eyes were pretty damn cold too.

He looked back at me, said, “Those twelve blocks, the park, that’s ours… But these cops, they pretty much leave us alone, cause when they don’t, we got a way of not liking it, a way of tracking them down. It’s been done, man.”

I nodded.

Juan was chewing gum now, and I could hear him popping it, and I felt something cold against the back of my neck. I turned. Juan had a nine poking against my neck and he was grinning and chewing his gum.

“That there,” Grillwork said, “that was in case you didn’t have all the right answers. Like maybe you wanted to argue a point.”

“No argument,” I said, turning back to face Grillwork. “I take it you’re the one called Headmaster, since you’re the one laying out the ground rules.”

Juan took the nine out of my neck.

“No. You don’t talk to Headmaster about this shit. I’m one of his lieutenants. You can call me Hummy.”

“All right,” I said. It was a curious name, some nickname, and I wondered about it, but I didn’t really care enough to ask.

“You frisked him?” Hummy said to Juan and Billy.

“Earlier tonight,” Juan said. “He ain’t packing nothing but a dick and balls.”

“All right,” Hummy said. “Let me ask.”

I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t ask who he wanted to ask, and what he wanted to ask them about. I found the best thing was just to be quiet and everyone filled things in for themselves. You said too much, then you gave them room for varied interpretation. You didn’t say anything, they usually filled it up with what they wanted.

Hummy got up and went away. He was gone for a good while. When he came back, he jerked a thumb toward the door he had gone through, and we went through it, along a narrow hall by a bathroom with an open door where a guy that was maybe three hundred pounds, sat on a sagging toilet and made noises like he was trying to pass a water buffalo, antlers and all. The hallway was full of stink.

“Close the fucking door,” Juan said, as we went by. “God damn Rhino, who wants to smell that shit, or see you delivering it. Close the fucking door.”

Rhino didn’t reach out and close the door, and we just kept going along the hallway. At the end of the hall was another door and this one was a thick door that looked as if it had been added recently. Billy knocked, and a voice said, “Come in,” and we went inside.

It was a big stinking room and it was full of weapons. All kinds of things. I saw an AK-47 and some automatic pistols, small and large, and there were machetes and gas cans all over the place. There were some net bags hanging from the ceiling, and in the bags were human heads, and they were the source of the smell. They were jacking with me, trying to see what I was made of, how scared I was.

Way I felt, scared was not on the agenda. I was way past scared and had leveled out into a steady feeling of numbness. My body was numb, my mind was numb, my soul was numb. The world to me was nothing more than one big numb ball of grief.

I could cope with it because of the sensei I had had when I moved away from here, some years back. I had enjoyed the training so much I almost didn’t move back. It almost made me mellow.


But I had the demon inside, and I had left sensei and what he had taught me. I wasn’t trying to use martial arts to learn to live my life without violence, with confidence and harmony, way he taught me. I wanted to use it to hurt someone, the thing I wasn’t supposed to do. I had learned nothing that really mattered from my sensei and I knew it and it made me feel a little ill.

There was a guy in the back, and I took him for the Headmaster, way he carried himself, and there were some guys with him. Juan and Billy left me looking at the heads in the bags, and went over to the guy and talked with him. I could hear them whispering, looking back at me from time to time, so I knew I was the subject.

This went on for awhile, and I looked around and saw all the guns and the ammunition; all the representatives of power. Straight people, they tell you they like guns because they like to shoot targets, but it’s the power, man, that’s what it is and all it is. It’s the big dick spurting lead cum all over the place. You can call it our rights or you can call it target practice or you can call it personal protection, but it’s about power, and I wanted power, and I wanted a gun just like everyone else. Martial arts, Shen Chuan, it gave me power, but a gun, that was the ultimate power.

I put that all out of my mind as the crowd back there broke off and I got a really good look at the guy they were surrounding. He was a little blonde guy with a burr hair cut and he came strutting around one of the racks of weapons. He was covered in weapons himself. He had holsters filled with automatics all over him, and his eyes darted from side to side. He was as paranoid as a staked goat at a Fourth of July picnic. And like the goat, just because he was paranoid didn’t mean they weren’t out to get him.

“You’re the Headmaster,” I said.

“They call me that,” he said, and he didn’t offer me his hand when I offered mine. I put my hand away, feeling as if I had offered him a fish. He looked me up and down. He was short, but he was broad and he had legs like tree trunks. They were supported on little feet in little black boots with silver tips; with those things he could kick a cockroach to death in a corner of the room.

“I got some word you done some things,” he said.

“You mean the girl?” I said.

“I mean the girl. You hit her good?”

“Yeah. I broke her little nose.”

“That shows you got some grit. I’m not saying it takes anything to beat up a little girl, but I’m telling you it takes balls to do it.”

I had already heard this from his guys, but I didn’t say anything.

“We need guys like you, can follow orders, do what needs to be done.”

I said, “Okay.”

“Those heads you’re looking at,” Headmaster said. “They strayed. They started trying to hustle their own business, our drug business and their piece was enough. They wanted more. They wanted to sell a little pussy on the side. The pussy is in the river, these guys, well, you see what’s left of them.”

“Run a pretty tight ship,” I said.

Headmaster laughed. “That I do.”

“What we got to do, man, is we still got some things to try with you.”

“Try with me?”

“Yeah,” Headmaster said, “come back here.”

There was another room beyond this one and I let the Headmaster lead me back there, and when he did, his guys followed me in. Juan hit me a hard one behind the head and made my sight go black, and then my vision jumped back with white dots in it, and I staggered a little. Then someone I didn’t see, kicked me up under the butt from behind and got me in the balls.

I swung out and hit someone, and then the Headmaster, he was on me, slamming one in my stomach, and I guess instinct took over, because I kicked him in the groin and stepped forward, popped my palm against the side of his head and he went down.

I whirled then, and tried to hit another guy with a jab, but he slipped it, and I caught one under the belly. I jammed an elbow into the back of his neck as he stooped, and he grunted, and I slapped my hands over his ears, and he screamed and turned away. I kicked out at Billy’s knee, and he screamed. I hit Juan in the throat and he dropped, and I smelled shit on the air.

I hit another one of the guys with a knee to the inside of his leg, and that dropped him. I poked my fingers in another guy’s eyes, not enough to blind him, but enough to make him less interested in kicking my butt.

And then the Headmaster yelled, “That’s it, that’s enough.”

He got up holding his nuts with one hand, grinning at me, holding his other hand up in a stop motion.

“All right,” he said. “All right, you got what it takes.”

I wiped blood off my mouth.

“We got to see you can take it same as dish it out, and man, you can dish it out. Can you teach that chop socky to the rest of us?”

“So this was a test?” I said.

“Big time,” Headmaster said, and then he frowned and looked at Juan. “Man, you shit your pants?”

Juan nodded.

“Go get some fresh drawers,” Headmaster said. “Damn, Juan, he didn’t hit you in the belly.”

“When you get hit hard, throat, any kind of place,” I said, “you’re carrying a load, you’ll drop it.”

“Ain’t that something,” Headmaster said. “I’ve seen and smelled them do it when they’re shot, but I didn’t know about the hitting. That’s some shit you got there.”

“No,” I said. “It’s Juan that’s got the shit.”

Everyone, except Juan, who was waddling out of the room, laughed.

· · ·

I GOT RESPECT when everyone in the bowling alley heard about how I had fought, though truth was, had they fought back a little more persistent, martial arts training or not, I would have been toast. They weren’t willing enough. Me, I thought I was in for it, like maybe I was just a test for them, way the girl was supposed to be for me, so I was fighting back big time. Them, they were just testing. I was glad they quit when they did, cause I felt like my balls were trying to crawl out of my asshole from that kick I got.

Anyway, I was in.

So, I guess a week goes by, and I’m doing some little things, like I had to break a guy’s leg to get some money that was owed for something or another the gang had going. I don’t know what. I didn’t ask. I didn’t care. I just stomped the side of his knee with my foot and it cracked like a fruit jar tossed on the sidewalk and he gave up the money. He was ready to give anything up. I asked him to suck my dick and lick my nuts, he’d have done it. Anything to keep me from breaking his other knee.

Another week and they gave me permission to go in the gun room, cause you had to have one of the main guys open it with a key, and you had to have permission to go in. They took me in there, Headmaster, Billy, and Juan. They gave me a gun, or rather they told me to pick anything I wanted. I picked an automatic pistol out of the pile, and I pulled an AK-47 off the rack. I got some ammunition. Clips for the AK-47 and the automatic pistol. I should have got more clips, but I was nervous. I ended up with an extra load for the AK-47, one for the automatic.

“You’re gonna need that shit,” Headmaster said. “Things we got going. We got a little gang on the other side, bunch of spicks—”

“Hey,” Juan said.

“Not our spicks,” Headmaster said, and then he looked right at Juan, “and thing is, I don’t care to please you anyway, beaner. I’m the man here, and that makes you the boy, you got me, you fucking pepper gut?”

Juan made a face that looked as if he had just been handed a dead rat to eat. He had been using that kind of talk all along, but it had caught him funny going right at him and mad like that.

Headmaster leaned forward till his nose was almost on Juan’s. “I said, you got me?”

Juan nodded. “Sure, man. I got you. No hard feelings.”

“If there is, you’ll live with them,” Headmaster said. He turned to me then, said, “We’re gonna have to cut down on them spicks from out and away. I thought you ought to get your shot to get some blood in, you know. Something serious, not poking some little girl in the nose or breaking a leg. Something serious.”

“All right,” I said. “What’s the plan?”

“We’re gonna get you and Juan and Billy to saddle up, go over there and take a little cruise by, spread some lead. These guys, they got them a little meth thing going, and that’s our finance, baby, and I don’t want them sucking any of our chocolate.”

“A drive by?” I said.

“That’s what I said, only more than that, really. We’re gonna drive by, and then when they think it’s over, we’re gonna come back on them.”

“They’ll be ready,” Billy said.

“What about civilians?” I said.

“Hell,” Headmaster said. “There ain’t no civilians. They're the same as that girl you popped, the shit these guys nailed and burned to get in the gang. There’s us and there’s them. You pop a few wives, girlfriends or kids, that’s the price of doing business, price of fucking on turf ain’t yours.”

“I got you,” I said.

Headmaster nodded, said. “You boys get what you need?”

Billy said, “We got guns, and we got these.”

He grabbed his loose pants where his balls were, and acted like he was shaking them.

· · ·

I SAID I WAS going to the can, and I reluctantly laid the rifle back in the rack, said, “Give me a minute to deliver my last meal,” and I went out of the gun room and into the little bathroom off to the side. It was cleaner than the big bathroom right next to the lanes. And the big fuck wasn’t in there stinking it up. I mean, you wouldn’t want to eat off the floor or nothing, but compared to the other one, it was like it had just been sanitized. The other, it never got cleaned, smelled bad, and the toilets all had dark shit rings inside of them. There were boogers on the wall and things written in pen and pencil, blood and snot, and maybe even shit. You went in there, you might step on a needle, a rubber, or find some guy bending a girl over the sink, doing their business, needling horse—enough to call it a Clydesdale.

I went in and put the lid down on the toilet and sat there and tried to catch my breath. I was in. I belonged to the gang. It’s what I wanted.

I took out the automatic, a nine, and looked at it, felt cold sweat trickle down from my hairline and run along my face and drip off my chin. I laid the automatic on my knee. I thought about my brother. I thought about my father. My father, he never got over it. Killed himself. Shot himself.

My brother, in that store, his feet nailed to the floor, and those two jackasses having set a fire just so they could be in a club, a gang. And now here I was having punched a little girl in the face and taken out a guy’s knee, about to do some real damage. Of course, my reasons for being here were different. I didn’t want to be a member because I respected them, but because I didn’t. I hated them. Especially Juan and Billy, and then the head guy. I wanted what my sensei said was useless to have, vengeance.

After my brother was dead, and we had moved away, my dad had tried to get it together, but couldn’t. He put a gun in his mouth and blew his worries asunder. I was mad at him, hated him for awhile, but then I got over it, because I realized how hard it was to carry on. I was doing the same thing, but in a slightly different manner. Throwing it away. But unlike Dad, it wouldn’t just be me and some blood on the living room floor. There were some guys I was gonna flush with me.

If I got out all right, that was good, but I knew this: I was going to make my mark for dad and for my brother. They were gonna get some blowback on that business they done.

I picked up the automatic and laid in on the sink and lifted the lid and took a piss. I zipped up and washed my face and got the automatic and stuck it in my waist band and went out of there. When I came back into the gun room, the door still open, Juan looked at me kind of funny, said, “Man, we thought you fell in.”

“I was seriously packing,” I said.

I picked up the AK-47. I had shot one before. I had learned a lot about guns from my sensei, the one who told me that guns are about romance and power more than they are about self-defense or constitutional amendments. He also said, “Boys like their toys, the more dangerous and explosive the better.”

He said he liked them too and went to bed at night bothered by it.

I went to bed at night bothered by everything. I didn’t see my brother die, but I could imagine how horrible it was. Him crawling and that fire eating at him and that goddamn popcorn popping, and across the way, those two fucks laughing, getting a kick out of it all.

I looked at Headmaster and Juan and Billy, and I thought, these three, they’re the main guys I want. I could just do it now. I could open up and they wouldn’t know shit from wild honey, and then it would be over.

But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted more than that, and though I was willing to give what it took to get even, I preferred the opportunity to stay alive. Didn’t happen, didn’t happen.

I was ready to play either way.

“What now?” I said.

“I’m thinking,” Headmaster said, “we should probably arm a couple of the other guys, take them with you. It’s best not to take a whole wad. You do that, you’re more likely to end up butt fucking one another. Two many, that’s a fucking crowd. A small hit force, that’s the way to go.”

“You going?” I asked.

The Headmaster looked me as if I had asked if I could stick my finger up his ass and fish for shit.

“No. You’re going. You and Juan and Billy, maybe a couple of others. I go when I want and if I want. You aren’t questioning my chops are you?”

“No,” I said. “I was just wondering.”

“I’ll do the wondering for both of us, blood.”

“All right,” I said.

“Damn right, it’s all right. Juan, you go out there and pick you some wham-bang-dangers, two of them, and then let’s get them fixed with some tools and some lead, and then you guys, I’ll lay it out to you. The whole she-bang of a plan.”

One way, I thought, one easy way, is I isolate Juan and Billy, take them out. That would be the good way, the smart way. But it wasn’t satisfying to me, not even by a little bit. I imagined Tim squirming with his feet nailed to the floor screaming, the unbearable heat, the flames licking, him ripping his feet apart to get loose.

While I was doing this, Juan went out of the room. I thought, shit, I got to get it together and keep it together. Here I am in my head and outside my head the world is moving on.

“I’ll go with him,” I said.

And I was out of the door and going down the hall, could see Juan’s back as he turned the corner into the room where I had met the guy I thought was the Headmaster. I was almost to the door when I heard Headmaster yell at me.

“Hey, I tell you to go anywhere?”

I didn’t look back, said, “What’s it matter?”

“It matters cause I say so,” Headmaster said, in that way of his that lets you know even when it isn’t important, he wants you to know he’s the swinging dick of the operation.

I looked in the room, and there behind the desk was Hummy, guy I thought originally was the Headmaster, and was probably his replacement. One day, the Headmaster would look South and a bullet would come from the North, probably out of Hummy’s gun.

Or that’s the way it might have gone over had I not decided to change everyone’s plans. I was the fucking fly in the ointment, the crab in the ass. I was gonna mess things up worse than a politician.

Headmaster yelled at me again, told me to stop. I shifted the AK-47 to my left hand and pulled out the automatic and turned and looked at him and Billy, and then I fired. I was a good shot, and I was proud of that, because my first shot caught Headmaster between the eyes, and he went down so fast it was impossible to believe it. Billy, blood and brains from Headmaster splattered across his cheek, tried to pull up the rifle he had in his hand, but I shot him through the heart before he got it lifted, and then I was in the room with Hummy by the time Billy hit the floor.

Juan had already gone through and was at the far door, and he had turned, drawn the automatic he had, and now there were guns coming out from under coats and out of pockets, and from behind the desk. Juan fired twice and the shots slammed into the door frame and I shot at him once, but missed, and then I stuck the pistol in my belt, almost casual like, switched the AK-47 to my right hand, lifted it firing, bullets going all over the place, crazy like.

I hit a couple of the guys and one of the girls, and they did a kind of hop and a twist, like they were grooving at a party, and then there was blood everywhere and people were going down. I felt something hot in my side and I shot Hummy a bunch of times, and then I was walking, just straight out, not thinking about anything but killing, feeling the fire in my side, but not thinking much of it. I walked right through, whipping the weapon left and right, mowing flesh.

As I reached the far open door, I saw they were coming for me, maybe twenty guys, couple of the girls, but there were some holding back. The ones coming had weapons, all hand guns, and when they opened up the world went crazy and my ears went deaf and began to ring. And I don’t remember it all, but the bullets cut all around me and one went through my left arm and it hurt like hell, and the next thing I know it’s hanging at my side, and I got the AK-47 lifted, pushed up against my hip, and I’m rockin’ and rollin’ and bodies are jumping. I’m having a better day than they are. Probably because they couldn’t hit an elephant in the ass at ten paces with a tossed bar stool, even spraying. I’m like the luckiest mother fucker that ever squatted to shit over a pair of shoes, cause except for that one hit, I’m doing good. It’s like I was fucking charmed.

I saw my bullet jerk B.G. and Rhino around and take them apart, and a lot of the others, they went down too.

I started walking sideways, along the wall, and I came to the counter where the shoes used to be given out, slid behind that. I kept firing and their shots kept coming and the wood on the counter jumped and splintered and the shoe racks behind me came apart, and I wasn’t hit again. I just kept pushing the AK-47 up against me, firing.

I was almost to the door, and I could see that the bodies were heaped. And there was that damn Juan, still alive, and I pulled the trigger on the AK-47 again, but it was empty, and I remembered that I had picked up another clip, but couldn’t load it with only one hand working, so I dropped the AK-47 and pulled the pistol and fired one shot and didn’t hit anyone, heard the lead bounce off a bowling ball, and then I was at the door. I ran out of there, my arm dangling at my side like a puppet that had lost a string.

· · ·

IT WAS COOL OUTSIDE for a change and there was a thin rain blowing in my face as I ran. I felt a little dizzy, but for the most part things were all right, but the colors of the night, lit up by distant lights, were mostly shades of black and gray. I was glad there were no streetlights, because I got behind a parked car and dropped behind it and laid on my belly and looked under it and down the street at the bowling alley. As I was laying there, I felt the AK-47 clip sticking in my stomach, and I lifted up and pulled it out of my belt and left it on the concrete. I touched my pocket. The extra load for the automatic was gone. It must have fallen out of my pocket. I looked around under the car for it, and then I saw beneath the car that it lying in the street between the car and the bowling alley. I hadn’t stuck it in good, and it had gotten bumped out. I felt like an idiot.

After awhile the door opened a crack, and a head poked out, and then another, and then one other. They looked my direction first, then the other direction. I wondered how many were still in there. I had pretty much wiped out the crop of the gang, scared the shit out of the others. Only thing I hadn’t done was blow up their meth lab, which was in a little house down the street from the bowling alley. There were some of the gang there, but, way I felt, they were going to get away. Maybe I’d come back and get them too, just for the hell of it. Kill them all and blow the place up and shit in the ashes.

I kept watching, and then I saw the heads move, and then the guys were out in the street. And then another guy showed, and then a girl. She had long black hair, and I even noted she had a good figure, and thought that was funny. Here I am, lying on the ground, people wanting to kill me, one of them that girl, and I’m taking note of her tits and ass.

They all had guns. Hand guns. I could see them moving them around in the dark. Altogether, there were five of them. Three of them broke off and went the opposite way, and then the other two, Juan, limping a little, and the girl, started my way. They saw the clip I had dropped, and Juan stopped and bent down and picked it up.

They looked back for the others, but they had long gone. At least it was just this two knew which direction I had gone.

It was all I could do to make myself move. The concrete felt good and cool. I lifted up on my hands and knees, and when I did, I could hear the sticky blood that had run out of me make a Velcro sound; it had dried enough to stick me to the cement. I realized then that I hadn’t been as charmed as I thought. I had been hit a couple of times, but not anywhere too bad, or so I hoped. I did feel a little light headed.

I backed on hands and knees a few paces, then backed into an alley and hoped it wasn’t a dead end. It wasn’t. I went along it and tried not to breath to heavy or too loud. I looked up. The sky was just a kind of slick glow. There were no lights where I was, but the city lights slicked the sky like that and gave it this gauzy look. I thought of where I had lived when dad and me moved away from here. There you could see the sky and at night you could hear crickets and frogs and there were tall trees.

I went over a grating, and when I did steam came out of it like devil’s breath, and I jumped a little. I went on and around a corner, and then I started feeling as if someone had opened up a spigot in my heel and the soul of me was running out of it.

I stopped and leaned against the alley wall and moved my shirt back and looked at where I had been hit in the side, realized it was a bad hit, worse than I thought. The other wounds weren’t so bad, but they were all bleeding, and I felt as if there was something tunneling around inside of me.

I could hear Juan and that girl coming. I thought about running, but my body wasn’t up for it. They knew where I was, and it was a matter of time before they caught up with me. I looked around, saw some garbage cans by some metal stairs. I made my way there and got behind the cans and eased over behind the stairs and watched between the garbage cans as Juan turned the corner, and then the girl.

They spread out, maybe trying to act like movies they’d see, where the cops search rooms. But this was a big ass room, this wide spot in the alley, and when she went left, Juan came along the wall, and then he stopped as his arm brushed the bricks. He put out his hand and rubbed the wall, and I knew he had found my blood there.

He turned and looked toward the trashcans, and when he did, he saw me between those cans. I knew it. I could tell. I lifted the gun and fired and it hit him and he went down and his pistol skittered across the alley.

Bullets banged around the cans and along the stairs and a light went on somewhere above me, and the girl, panicking, fired at the lighted window. I heard glass crash and then someone smartly turned out the light. I stood up and kicked the trash cans over and came out blazing. I fired twice and both shots missed. She fired and hit me in the shoulder, and this one was solid, not just passing through. It knocked me down and I felt as if all the wind was out of me. I couldn’t believe how hard I had been hit.

I lay on my back and she came toward me. She was smiling. She had a revolver. She pointed it at me. She straddled me and pulled the trigger. And it clicked empty. She had shot at me in the bowling alley, maybe one of her shots had hit me, but now, she was all used up.

I grinned and lifted the pistol and shot her in between the legs.

She seemed to jump backwards and then she hit the ground on her back, made a noise like someone trying to squeeze out a silent fart.

I could hardly get up, but I did. I staggered over to her and looked down at her. She looked young. Not a whole lot older than the girl I had punched.

“Shit,” I said.

She quit moving, except for one leg that wiggled a moment, then quit.

I went over to Juan. He was breathing heavy. He had his hands on his belly. I got down on my knees by him.

I said, “That boy, whose feet you nailed to the floor. That was my brother. My father committed suicide over it. I don’t like you are any of your gang. I’m glad you hurt bad.”

He tried to say something, but he couldn’t. All of his air was being used to stay alive.

“I just wanted you to know how much I hate you. You fucked up my life, and this sure fucks up yours. And I got Billy too. And the Headmaster, and a bunch of you fucks. You had a plastic Jesus in your pocket, I’d snap it in half. That’s how much I hate you. How you feeling, Juan?”

Juan looked at me, and his mouth came open, like a fish on a dock, hoping for water.

“I could kill you,” I said. “Make it stop hurting. But, I don’t want to.”

I stayed there on my knees until blood came out of his mouth and the smell of it and the shit in his pants became too strong for me to take. Then I stood up and looked at him. It was all I could do to stand up, and I should have moved on, maybe found a doctor. But I didn’t want to miss a second of it.

I watched until he was dead and his eyes were as flat and lifeless as a Teddy Bear’s.

I went away then, moving slow, but moving. I dropped the automatic somewhere. I walked until I came to some lights, and down the way I could hear traffic, and I could see people. People who weren’t in gangs. People with lives. People, many of which would live long and die of old age and have families. Stuff I wouldn’t know about.

I leaned against a brick wall, under a street light. The first I had come to since leaving the bowling alley. I looked up and watched bugs swarm around the light. They didn’t know they had short lives and didn’t care. They just did what they did and had no thoughts about it.

I grinned at them.

I took the little girl’s wallet out of my back pocket and opened it. It had five dollars in it. I looked through it and found her picture, and found a picture of her with a man, woman, and little boy. Her family, I figured. I found a little card behind a plastic window that had her address on it. It said: RETURN TO, and then there was the address. I knew that address, the general locale. It wasn’t far from where I had lived as a kid, back when dad owned the store and he and my brother worked there, and I hung out there from time to time. On that day my brother was murdered, set on fire, I had been at a theater down the street, watching a movie. It was a good movie, and now, because of my brother’s death, I couldn’t think of that movie without feeling a little sick, and I couldn’t think of it now. I thought about the girl again, and that was almost as bad as thinking about my brother or my father.

I thought about her nose. I hoped she could fix it, or maybe it wasn’t broken too badly and would heal all right. I thought about the guy whose knee I had taken out for the lack of payment to the Headmaster. I didn’t really care about him. He was in bed with the skunks, so he got stink all over himself before I did anything to him. He had it coming. Maybe he didn’t have it coming from me, not really, but he had it coming, and I didn’t feel all the bad about him. I didn’t feel bad about any of the gang. I just wished I had killed them all.

I read the address in the wallet again. I knew where that was. I started walking.

· · ·

I STUCK THE AUTOMATIC under my shirt and went along the back streets as much as possible. When I got on a main street, people began to pull back from me, seeing all the blood, way my face looked. I saw it myself, reflected in a store window. I looked like a ghost who had seen a ghost. The shock was wearing off. I was really starting to hurt.

I probably didn’t have long before the police got me, before people on the street called about this blood covered guy.

I took a turn at the corner, and started walking as fast as I could. I felt as if most of what was left of me was turning to heat and going out the top of my head. I went along until I got to the back alleys, and then I darted in, and I went through them. I remembered these alleys like I had been here yesterday, though it had been a few years. I remembered them well because I had played here. I went down them and along them, and somewhere back behind me I heard sirens, wondered if they were for me.

I finally went down an alley so narrow I had to turn sideways to get down it. It opened up into a fairly well lit street. I got the girl’s wallet out again and looked at the address. I was on the right street, and I memorized the number and put the wallet away and walked along the street until I found the number that fit the one on her little card in the wallet.

There was a series of stone steps that went up to a landing and there was a door there, and above it was the number. I climbed up to the top step, and that was about it. I sat down suddenly and leaned back so that my ass was on the stoop and my legs were hanging off on the top step. I could hardly feel that step. My legs seemed to be coming loose of me and sinking into something like quicksand. I had to take a look at them to make sure they were still attached. When I saw they were, I sort of laughed, because I couldn’t feel them. I pulled myself up more with my hands and put my back at an angle against one of the concrete rails that lined the steps on both sides.

I took out the wallet and I put both my hands over it and put the wallet up against my stomach. I tried to put it some place where blood wouldn’t get on it, but there wasn’t any place. I realized now that the warm wetness I was feeling in the seat of my pants was blood running down from my wounds and into my underwear. I hated they would find me like that.

I sat there and thought about my dad and my brother and I thought about what my sensei had said about you can’t correct what’s done, and if you try, you won’t feel any better. He was right. You can’t correct what’s been done. But I did feel better. I felt bad about the girl though, but I felt good about all those dead fucks being dead. I felt real good.

I felt around in my shirt, and my hand was like a catcher’s mitt trying to pick up a needle. I finally found my ball point and I opened the girl’s wallet, which was bloody, and I pinched out the little card with her address on it, and I wrote the best I could: I’M SORRY. REALLY, I AM.

I laid the wallet on my knee, got out my own wallet. I had three hundred and twenty-five dollars in there. I put the money from my wallet in her wallet, along with her five. I turned and looked at the door. I didn’t know if I could make it. There was a mailbox by the door, a black metal thing, and I wanted to get up and put the wallet in that, but I didn’t know if I could.

I thought about it awhile, and finally I got some kind of strength, and pulled myself up along the concrete railing, and when I got up, it was like my legs and feet came back, and I made it to the mail box, opened it and put her wallet in there with the card I had written on.

Then that was it. I fell down along the wall and lay on my face. I thought about all manner of things. I thought of my brother and my father, but the funny thing was I began to think about my sensei. I was on the mat and I was moving along the mat. And I was practicing in the air. Not traditional kata, because we didn’t do that. But I was practicing, punching, kicking, swinging my elbows, jerking up my knees. It felt good, and I could see my sensei out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t make out if he was pleased or angry, but I was glad he was there.

The sirens grew louder.

I thought of bullets and fire, and a deep pit full of darkness. I wished I could see the stars.

If you enjoyed “Bullets and Fire,” maybe you’ll like The Big Blow, too. It’s a historical novella by the inestimable Mr. Lansdale, available as an e-book from Gere Donovan Press.

The Big Blow

‘Lil’ Arthur ran down to the Sporting Club that night and stood in front of it, his hands in his pants pockets. The wind was brisk, and the air was just plain sour, like milk that had dried on a rag.

The Sporting Club was a huge building with many windows and great columns that held up a vast expanse of second floor, and all around grew manicured trees, and beyond the trees was a wrought iron fence where each spike of the fence was tipped like a spear head; beyond that there were more scattered trees, then the street and a staggering of glowing gas street lights.

There were no lights on in the building, and the tall windows that ringed the first and second floor were like a row of rectangular mouths, dark and foreboding, hungry, picking up occasional flickers of light from the gas lamps.

Unless he was fighting, unless he was invited and went in the back door at a prescribed time, he could not walk inside The Sporting Club. No niggers were to pass through the same door as the lily whites.

‘Lil’ Arthur closed his eyes and opened them slowly and imagined himself walking through the gate that led up to the club; walking through it and then the door, all dressed out in fine clothes with a bowler hat, and just to make it more amusing, a colored woman on one arm, a white woman on the other. Maybe, just to make things better, he could have one black hand on the white woman’s ass as he went through the door.

Hell, why not a finger up her ass?

‘Lil’ Arthur had heard his ancestors had been sold by their own people into slavery and that they were friends to the white slavers who bought his people.

It was rumored that one of his distant ancestors had been born in a grave in Mississippi. A pregnant colored woman named Ida had died after a Held accident, had been dumped in a ditch near the corn Held about dusk and covered.

A little later that night a muffled cry was heard, like a young panther screaming”.

Somehow, that woman, in death, a rigor spasm perhaps, or maybe she had been barely alive when buried, had given birth to a child and that child was alive and screaming to be noticed.

When Massa sent slaves to see what the wailing was about, they dug up a child, attached by his umbilical cord to his dead mother. They pulled the childout, a boy, a huge boy, cleaned him up, and he lived and was named Hercules by the plantation owner. He was Massa’s boxer, and he beat all comers. All blacks, that was. No white man would fight him.

‘Lil’ Arthur believed he was the descendent of that boy who became a man named Hercules, famous for his strength and his ability to work any man down. He didn’t know it for a fact, but it was the family story and one he wanted to believe.

But Hercules—born of a woman determined even in death to finish bringing him into the world—in spite of his strength, in spite of his pride, never walked through the front door of a white man’s building or fought a white man.

‘Lil’ Arthur was going to be the first of his ancestral line to do that, and this fight, he felt it in his bones, was his ticket of admission through that door, and others.

By God, thought ‘Lil’ Arthur. I’m gonna change the world.

Yes sir, Saturday, he was going to fight a heavyweight crown contender, and though it would not be listed as an official fight, and McBride was just in it to pick up some money, he was glad to have the chance to fight a man who might fight for the championship some day.

If he could beat him, even if it didn’t affect McBride’s record, ‘Lil’ Arthur knew he’d have that; he would have beaten a contender for the Heavyweight Championship of the world.

It was a real beginning and a far cry from The Battle Royales he had first participated in. There was a time when he looked upon those degrading events with favor.

He remembered his first Battle Royale. His friend Ernest had talked him into it. Once a month, sometimes more often, white “sporting men” liked to get a bunch of colored boys and men to come down to the club for a free-for-all. Would put nine or ten of them in a ring, sometimes make them strip naked and wear Sambo masks. He’d done that once himself.

While the coloreds fought, the whites would toss money and yell for them to “kill one another.” Sometimes they’d tie two coloreds together by the ankles, let them go at it. Once, ‘Lil’ Arthur saw a fight between two one legged colored boys, hopping about the ring and clubbing each other. Blood flowed thick as molasses on flapjacks. Bones were broken. Muscles torn.

For the whites, it was great fun, watching a couple of coons knock each other about. For them, it was one step below a dog fight. Whites had some feelings for their dogs.

‘Lil’ Arthur found he was good at fighting, and even knocked his friend Ernest out, effectively ending their friendship. He couldn’t help himself. He got in there, got the battling blood up, he would hit whoever came near him.

He started boxing regularly, gained some skill. No more Battle Royales. He got a reputation with the colored boxers, and in time that spread to the whites.

The Sporting Club, out of white contenders for their champion, Forrest Thomas, thought they would put together a novelty match. If it was fun watching two coons hit each other, wouldn’t be more fun to have a trained boxer, a white man, slap a coon about. It would show the superiority of the white race, proved in a match of skill and timing.

They gave ‘Lil’ Arthur twenty-five dollars to mix it up with their man. They even promised him the club’s championship title if he defeated Forrest Thomas.

Right before the fight, ‘Lil’ Arthur said his prayers, then considering he was going to be fighting in front of a bunch of angry, mean-spirited whites, and for the first time, white women— sporting women, but women—who wanted to see a black man knocked to jelly, he took gauze and wrapped his dick. He wrapped it so that it was as thick as a blackjack. He figured he’d give them white folks something to look at. The thing they feared the most. A black as coal stud nigger.

A bad nigger.

Meaner than they were.

And hung better, too.

And when the big event rolled around, he whupped Forrest Thomas like he was a redheaded stepchild; whupped him so bad, they stopped the fight so no one would see a colored man knock a white man out.

Against their wishes, the Sporting Club was forced to hand the championship over to ‘Lil’ Arthur Johnson, and the fact that a colored now held the club’s precious boxing crown was like a chicken bone in the club’s throat. Primarily Beems’s throat, the current president.

Enter McBride.

Beems, on the side, talked a couple of the Sporting Club’s wealthier members into financing a fight. One where a true contender to the heavyweight crown would whip ‘Lil’ Arthur and return the local championship to a white man, even if that white man relinquished the crown when he returned to Chicago, leaving it vacant. In that case, ‘Lil’ Arthur was certain he’d never get another shot at the Sporting Club Championship. They wanted him out, by hook or crook. The idea of a nigger with their championship was revolting.

‘Lil’ Arthur had never seen McBride. Didn’t know how he fought. He’d just heard he was as tough as stone and had balls like a brass monkey. He liked to think he was same way, and he loved his championship, even if it was just a small local one.

It was a true badge of pride, and if you came from the Flats, you didn’t have a chance to have much pride. And now he had a chance. He was even somebody in the Flats. His own people took notice, and the whites took notice, too, by hating him. He could see it in their eyes.

That alone made ‘Lil’ Arthur determined not to give his local title up. It was the only thing that made him something more than just another nigger from the Flats.

He’d fight anyone they put in front of him to keep it.

He’d fight the devil himself.

About the Author

With more than thirty books to his credit, Joe R. Lansdale is the Champion Mojo Storyteller. He’s been called “an immense talent” by Booklist; “a born storyteller” by Robert Bloch; and The New York Times Book Review declares he has “a folklorist’s eye for telling detail and a front-porch raconteur’s sense of pace.”

He’s won umpty-ump awards, including sixteen Bram Stoker Awards, the Grand Master Award from the World Horror Convention, a British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Horror Critics Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, the “Shot in the Dark” International Crime Writer’s Award, the Golden Lion Award, the Booklist Editor’s Award, the Critic’s Choice Award, and a New York Times Notable Book Award. He’s got the most decorated mantle in all of Nacogdoches!

Lansdale lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, with his wife, Karen, writer and editor.

Find him online at www.JoeRLansdale.com.

Also by Joe R. Lansdale

“Hap Collins and Leonard Pine” mysteries

Savage Season (1990)

Mucho Mojo (1994)

Two-Bear Mambo (1995)

Bad Chili (1997)

Rumble Tumble (1998)

Veil’s Visit(1999)

Captains Outrageous (2001)

Vanilla Ride (2009)

Hyenas (a novella) (2011)

Devil Red (2011)

Blue to the Bone (???)

The “Drive-In” series

The Drive-In: A “B” Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas (1988)

The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels (1989)

The Drive-In: A Double-Feature (1997, omnibus)

The Drive-In: The Bus Tour (2005) (limited edition)

The “Ned the Seal” trilogy

Zeppelins West (2001)

Flaming London (2006)

Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal (2010)

The Sky Done Ripped (release date unknown)

Other novels

Act of Love (1980)

Texas Night Riders (1983) (published under the pseudonym Ray Slater)

Dead in the West (1986) (written in 1980)

Magic Wagon (1986)

The Nightrunners (1987)

Cold in July (1989)

Tarzan: the Lost Adventure (1995) (with Edgar Rice Burroughs)

The Boar (1998)

Freezer Burn (1999)

Waltz of Shadows (1999)

Something Lumber This Way Comes (1999) (Children's book)

The Big Blow (2000)

Blood Dance (2000)

The Bottoms (2000)

A Fine Dark Line (2002)

Sunset and Sawdust (2004)

Lost Echoes (2007)

Leather Maiden (2008)

Under the Warrior Sun (2010)

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky (2011)

…And that's not counting the pseudonymous novels, the short stories, the chapbooks, anthologies, graphic novels, comic books and all the rest. Get the full story at www.JoeRLansdale.com.


This digital edition (v1.0) of “Bullets and Fire” was published by Gere Donovan Press in 2011.

© 2009, Joe R. Lansdale

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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