The Code – A Hank Bradshaw Short Story by Matt Wall

We were both looking down the barrels of each others guns. His gun was bigger than him. His hands shook with fear and the sweat was beading heavily on his forehead. With a gun that size, if he were to pull that trigger, there would be a nice, fist sized hole in my chest or head; and that’s just the entry wound. The exit would would look like dropped lasagna. 

My gun, my pistol, was almost completely hidden by my large, heavy hand. It looked almost like a kids toy. I’m sure that was the only reason that this character hadn’t pissed himself and dropped dead of fright yet. He’s probably wondering if the gun in my hand is even real. 

I knew the reason why this kid shook so badly. He knew who I was. I never had to tell him. Pieces of crap like him all over this town know who the hell I am. They know that if I’m coming for them, they might not live to see another day. No more Christmas with their dotting mother. No more wild nights with the boys. No more late night romps with the old lady. If I’m coming for you, you either turn yourself in to the cops, or you end up on the embalming table with some creepy mortician who will harvest your organs quicker than you can tie your shoelaces.

This kid knew who I was and he was scared. He should be scared. For what he did, he’s lucky that he has lived as long as he has. The only unlucky thing for him is that he’s not dead yet. I was going to relish this one. He was going to scream and beg for me to finish him off. I would let him think it was time, and then I would break another one of his fingers. Maybe, I would even blow his nose off from the side with a 9mm. That would sting like a bitch and he’s probably too stupid to know that it wouldn’t kill him.

I chased this kid through the streets and back alleys of this city all night. Crashed my car, tore my coat. This kid was asking for it. Besides the crime he committed, he’d had made it so damn hard for me to find him. It shouldn’t have been hard at all. I know every low life piece of shit in this whole damn town and every single one of these deadbeats owe me a favor. The only problem was, this kid was a nobody. No one had ever heard of him.

The kid wasn’t a career criminal; not yet at least. He had no rap sheet to speak of. Up until last week, he hadn’t ever done anything wrong; that I could find. Before last week, he also wasn’t a murderer, that I knew of. If this last week had taught him anything though, it’s that if Hank Bradshaw is after you, you’d wish you were dead.

I got the case the day after the murder. The victim’s father came into my office and hired me due to the fact that he thought the cops in town were idiots and wouldn’t be able to solve the crime. He was right. They were idiots. I understood him coming to me. He paid me more than my retainer and said he would give me a bonus if I could close the case before the funeral. The funeral was tomorrow morning. As much as I wanted the extra green, this case wasn’t about that. It was about The Code.

The Code, my code, it’s a strict one that I can’t live without. It breaks down like this: I’m allowed to carry a gun. I have an operators permit. If I shoot someone dead, it’s not that hard to get out of a cold-blooded murder rap. Because I have this ‘gift’, I need to use it for good. The only good thing I can think of is to keep pieces of crap like this guy from ever hurting anyone again. The only way to do that is to put a hot bullet right between his beady little eyes. 

If the cops get him, the goes to court. Assuming the idiots there don’t screw things up, which they do half of the time, he goes to prison where he learns nothing but how to be a better criminal from all the other deadbeats and losers that occupy that cesspool. Then, our wonderful justice system lets this psycho back on the streets to kill, rape and steal again. Not on my watch.

I have killed plenty of people. Almost all of them have deserved it. The Code won’t let me just kill anyone. The Code saves my wrath for those that need it most. The great thing about this city is that that never runs dry. There’s always some scumbag that needs to meet the end of my pistol and who the hell am I to interfere. 

Do I like killing? 

I think the question that needs to be asked is if I like making the streets a cleaner place. I do. Of course I do. 

Do I ever have second thoughts?

Not on your life. If you think twice, you’ll be dead. No deadbeat loser is ever going to get the drop on damn Hank Bradshaw!

The thing most people don’t understand is that once you have killed, it just gets easier to do it again and again. Each time you plug somebody, a little piece of you goes. With that piece that goes, also the sense of conscience as it comes to taking someone life. One might say that this kid, the one that I’ve got in my crosshairs, didn’t mean to do what he did and that it was all a huge mistake. Maybe he’ll never do it again.

That’s crap. The second this little shit is cornered and has the opportunity, he’ll do it again. He did it once and he’s still alive and kicking. Why not do it again. The sooner they kill again, the easier it becomes.

When you kill someone and then years go by, it does make it harder. The guilt over that one kill creeps into your brain. Most people would do themselves in before killing someone else. But in this city, most first time killers don’t have to go that long before adding the second victim to their kill list. 

The standoff was getting a little monotonous. I had to break the ice. “So, you gonna pull that trigger, kid?”

He shook more. The sound of my voice made him jump a bit. “You don’t think I will?” his voice quivered into a shout.

“Oh, believe you me, I think you will.”

“Then…you should just put your gun down and get on the floor.”

I chuckled. “Kid, that ain’t gonna happen. You and I both know it.”

He looked more flustered. “What do you thinks gonna happen?”

“We might chat for another minute or two, and then I’m gonna blow your freaking head off. Hopefully, none of your brain will get on my shirt. I wasn’t planning on going to the dry cleaners for another week.”

“Oh yeah?” The kid froze. He was trying to think of something witty to say, I just knew it. “I don’t think so.” 

I knew it. Amateur. 

I was getting pissed. This had gone on long enough. For what he did, I wanted to take my oversized mitts and smash his head in until his skull looked more like a Bloody Mary, but that’s not how The Code worked. The Code wouldn’t let me do that. You see, if I laid my hands on this kid and beat him to death, I would be sailing up river so fast, that would be the end of Hank Bradshaw: crime fighter. The cops in this town hate me for the most part because I do what they can’t. I do what their precious law won’t allow them to do. I stop crime. I stop it in its tracks. If I use my hands, it’s homicide. If I shoot someone who is pointing a gun at me, it’s self defense. The Code doesn’t fail. 

I always like to get the perp to confess before I plug’em. Just to make sure that I was right. I would hate to kill someone who didn’t deserve it, but in this town, what are the odds of that happening? Really?

“Why did you do it?”

His eyes got watery. “What?”

“Why did you do it? Why did you kill her?”

Tears rolled down his face. “It was an accident.”

“Of course it was,” I said with sarcasm.

“Serious. I didn’t mean to.”

“You shot her with that gun your pointing at me. Didn’t you?”

He looked at the quivering hand-cannon. “Yeah.”

“She was just a kid.”

“I know. I know it. She lived in the same building as me.” The tears were coming down in rivers now.

“The girl was only ten years old, and you killed her.”

“I know it, dammit!” He clenched his jaw and his eyes went mad. Only for a second, then he fell back into the crybaby he was only a few seconds earlier. That mad look in his eyes, that’s how I knew that he would kill again. It just takes someone to push you a little too far.

“So, explain it to me. Explain how it was an accident.”

“A buddy of mine, Kevin, he found this gun in the gutter.”

“I’m sure it was used in another murder the night before he found it.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He wiped the tears from his eyes with his free hand. “He was pointing it at people on the street and freaking them out. He handed it to me for me to try. He said it wasn’t loaded and not to worry…”

“Then you aimed it at a little girl and pulled the trigger.”

He nodded his head, closed his eyes and wept. The gun still pointed at me. 

“Here’s how this is gonna work. I’m not gonna take you to the cops.”

He seemed a little relived. “You’re not?”

“No, kid. What’s gonna happen is either you put that gun barrel in your mouth and pull that trigger one last time, or I pull this trigger and call it a day.”

“But, it was an accident!” he cried. 

“I know it was, kid. But, it’s the last one you’ll make. Feel good about that.”

His eyes turned from tears of sadness and guilt to hate, fire and madness. “I’ll kill you  first.”

“I know you will, kid, but look at it like this…”

A deafening shot rang out. The kids head was in pieces all over the wall behind him. What can I say? I got bored listening to myself talk. 

I had to phone it in to the cops, but I first had to let the little girls father know that it was over and he could bury his little girl knowing that justice had been done. Then I realized that I had to jog a couple blocks down and get my jalopy off that broken fire plug before the boys in blue decide it was a hit-and-run and tow it away. Oh, they would love that. Towing Hank Bradshaw’s ride. The bastards.

You can pick up Dead Dame on the Floor – Hank Bradshaw short stories at amazon by clicking here!

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