Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - No. Seven by Roger Thompson
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A cop, who doubles as a contract killer, breaks his routine in this crime thriller from author Roger Thompson.

No. Seven

I usually give them seven seconds. I know it's not what most people would imagine, but that's exactly why I chose it. It's an odd, unexpected number. Not quite ten, but not the traditional three-second count either, so somehow it made sense to me to just give them seven seconds. I start counting, slowly, clearly, evenly. Nothing pitched. Nothing loud. Nothing scary. I just count, and I let the gun do all the scary part for me. I chant the numbers all the way up to seven, and then I pull the trigger.

It kind of catches them off guard. I think most of them believe I'm going to keep going, and you can see, if you watch really closely, a moment of desperation when they hear the hammer drop. Their bodies tense. They start to open their eyes and their lips part, just slightly, as though they're going to say, "Oh no. No. Not yet." They want those last three seconds, those last three numbers. They seem to think they need them, that their salvation is somehow embedded in them. But it's not. There is no salvation in those last three numbers. There's no salvation for them no matter what. Seven or ten, it doesn't really matter. I'm going to pull the trigger, and they are going to die regardless, so I decided it might as well be seven. It's a good number. A holy number. A perfect number. A number that straddles life and death.

I have a feeling that this time, though, even with my gun leveled at this poor clown, I'm going to do something different. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe I'll just pull it on one. Maybe ten. Hell, maybe I just need to shut up and get out of here and find my own Sabbath. I've been burying these thugs for nearly twenty years, usually four or five of them each month. I get the phone call, I walk to my dresser, pull out my .357—a Smith and Wesson Model 386 Revolver for those of you looking for a good, holy finisher—pull on a sweater that hangs just below my beltline, then I head out the door. The instructions will be in my mailbox as I leave my apartment. Always accurate. Always precise. And always non-negotiable. I can usually find my man within an hour.

The whole affair isn't much of a challenge. Half the time these guys already know me. They've seen me and my badge before, or they know me by reputation. So, when I show up, they know something is about to happen. They know some measure of justice is about to come raining down, because when I show up at their homes, their neighborhood bars, their churches without my uniform on, and I move toward them with a kind of deliberate step that sounds like the heels of God crushing down on the earth, they know their lives are about to change.

These guys all have heard which ones of us at the station are willing to go the extra mile to make sure they stop what they're doing. They know who to avoid and who will beat the living shit out of them. What they usually don't know is that I'm not interested in beatings. I don't like the blood, and I don't like the bruised hands or the occasional rough and tumble bullshit that breaks out. I have no intention of fighting some fucking leper-thug who, as far as I'm concerned, shouldn't even be touched. If I go to meet him, I'm going to end his life and give him that final bit of rest earned by all his days of unholy work.

I'm not sure exactly how I got into this business. It's profitable, that's for damn sure, but I know it's more than that. I guess I just saw one too many crying kids or beaten wives, and one Sunday morning while watching that idiot Terry Bradshaw drone on about nothing, I downed my beer and decided that I had to do something. So I went out to the alley where I had busted a pimp for cracking open the face of one of his whores with a pipe. The sick fuck had then stepped on the back of her head and beat her on the back with the pipe, the blood of her face splashing off of it and staining her shirt in stripes of red. I knew he'd be back out there. He should have taken the day off, but he hadn't. He was still in that alley, waiting for his women to check in with him, and when I showed up, he thought there was going to be a rumble. There wasn't. There was just me and his dead body.

Word of that sort of thing spreads quickly across the precinct. I'm not even sure how the guys who set up these gigs found me, but they did, and in about a month I was all set. Almost weekly, I got my phone calls, and a week later, I would get my cash. It would be in my locker. That's how I know whoever is paying me works with me. That's how I know it's another cop.

You know, and sometimes it's pretty clear I'm taking out people who are more than just thugs. Some of them are obviously personal vendettas. I once shot a guy who drove a Lotus. He was no petty criminal who was just making our lives miserable or who had one too many inside connections on the force and was about to squeal. Someone else wanted that guy dead, and lord knows for what. Maybe he was fucking someone's wife. Maybe he hadn't paid up on some debt. Maybe he had just pissed off some cop or had donated to the wrong campaign. Who knows? After awhile, I just stopped asking questions. All of us probably deserve to die for shit we've done at some point. I'm just the vehicle of that justice, ensuring everyone pays for what they owe. I'm the one who finishes the work that all of us leave undone.

This guy today, though, is obviously just another thug. Just like that pimp, I find him in an alley. The letter had told me he'd be at The Crown—so typical—but when I went in, I couldn't find him. So, I decided to take a walk around the block and see if I could track him down. Didn't take long. He was in the alley next to the bar, puking. He was bent over, holding the side of a trash bin, throwing up all his beer, or Jack, or whatever it was. Nothing too violent, just the vomiting of a man who had one too many, not that of a stumbling binge.

I walked up behind him, and by the time I was five feet away, I could smell his puke and the trash in the bin he was gripping. It made me angry. I just wanted to take care of this and get back home and get some sleep. It wasn't even really dark yet, so if I did this right I could get home in time to watch some highlights, eat a pizza, and hit it.

I put my hand on his shoulder, and his head turned to see me. I didn't know who he was, but it was clear he knew me. I could feel the muscles in his shoulders tighten, and I said to him, "Get on your knees."

He hesitated.

"I think you should go ahead and get on your knees," I said again.

His eyes shifted back behind me, like he was looking for someone. I kept my eyes on him. I didn't want him to pull something, and if anyone was behind me, I'd have probably heard them anyway. I pushed down on his shoulder just a bit, a little encouragement, and his knees gave way.

He turned around when he knelt, and he looked up to me. I pulled out my revolver, and I pressed the barrel against his forehead. I began to count.

Usually, they start pleading, asking me what I want. They promise me anything and everything. They confess their sins and pledge their devotion. Down on their knees, they pray for life, but I continue my count, heading for that holy number seven, and sometimes I think I can hear my father, belt in his hand, saying, "And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne saying, it is done." When I hear that voice, I can feel my father's words rip across me, and I know that I will pull the trigger when I reach that number.

Today, though, I don't hear them, and I know I have to go for ten. I want to hear it. I want to hear that voice, and, maybe more, I want this guy to hear that voice. I want him to hear it come pouring out of me so that he knows, even more than I do, that it is done. All of it. Every last wish of his, every last hope, every last regret or plan to make yet another mistake in his ridiculous life. I want him to feel those words strike through his head.

I can't find them, though, so I keep counting, rising past seven. Maybe I just can't hear them anymore. Maybe they ended with my last job, that blubbering fat ass who kept beating his mother. Or, maybe it's just the way this guy is looking at me, the fact that he's even daring to look at me. Usually they don't. Usually, they look down and away, squinting, squeezing their eyelids together against the reality of my gun and my numbers. But this guy, he's looking up at me. Not really challenging me, but almost like he's ready for whatever is going to happen next. Like he knows what it is. I can see fear in his eyes, and I can smell that dark odor that lifts off people the moment before they die. Their bodies know their fate better than they do. But he doesn't seem to care. He doesn't even hear the numbers I'm counting, so I decide to keep going, just to make sure he hears me, just to make sure the sound of justice is revealed to him.

And then I hear it. I hear a "click," and I know I should not have kept counting. The sound is behind me, but I don't have to turn around to understand. I don't have time to make a move anyway. I know that sound. It's the same sound that this poor sap on his knees beneath my gun is about to hear, but this time, it's me who hears it and it's not coming from my gun. It's someone else's, and in a moment, I realize that I was wrong all along.

Those last three seconds do matter. Three is also holy. Those first seven seconds bring rest, but those last three I granted him, they are his life. They offer salvation.

His anyway.

But not mine. I've already passed perfection.

About the Author

Roger Thompson is an award-winning nonfiction writer. His most recent book, Beyond Duty, is a ghost-written Iraq war memoir which is the fastest-selling book in the history of his publisher, Polity Press. He lives in Lexington, Virginia, with his wife, his son, his dog, and his Facebook account.