A stand-off at point-blank range can go either way: good or bad -- really, really bad.


Billy Nelson and Kyle Morgan had served together in Afghanistan, and Kyle knew George Winston from a deployment to Iraq. So when Marsha, George’s wife, was found murdered, Billy, the rookie police officer, volunteered to contact Kyle, hoping to learn the whereabouts of George, the prime suspect. Billy was the logical choice for this assignment, his first assignment, but he had to meet him alone; those were Kyle’s terms.

The dimly lighted street leading to Abe’s Imports, a warehouse on the lower east side of town, was flanked by seedy, graffiti-covered buildings, trash bins, and debris. Billy parked near the rundown building, a tall brick structure with a shutter door separating the loading dock from the staging area. A high-intensity security lamp lighted the front.

The moon and stars were brightly shining when Billy got out of his patrol car. A light southwest breeze barely stirred the warm, humid air. He paused and listened for any activity, but it was quiet. Almost too quiet. After a quick scan of the area, he hesitated for a few moments more, closed the car door, walked to the side door of Abe’s, and went inside.

Harsh overhead LED lighting created deep shadows between the high rows of neatly stacked pallets of goods and supplies. A forklift was parked to one side while ropes, boxes, and debris cluttered the floor.

Odors from pallets, equipment, and dust, and the musty, oldness of the building, grabbed Billy’s throat. He coughed several times and spat a wad of phlegm on the floor. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and walked to the middle of the staging area. “Kyle,” he yelled. “Kyle, it’s Billy. Billy Nelson.”

George Winston stepped from the shadows. His right arm hung by his side, a gun dangled in his hand, his finger on its trigger.

Billy recoiled when the light illuminated the bearded, balding, six-foot-six hulk of a man approaching him.

George wiped the sweat off his brow and head with his left hand. “Kyle said you’d be comin’. You alone?”

“Winston?” Billy put his hand on his weapon and stepped backward. “George Winston?”

George nodded. “Yeah, that’s me, all right.”

“Where . . .” Billy swallowed. “Where’s Kyle?”

George gestured with his left thumb. “In the back.”

Billy took a step toward George.

“He’s drunk as a skunk.” George chuckled. “Whatcha want with me anyhow?”

“Got some bad news, George.” Billy extended his left upturned hand toward George.

George took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah.” Then nodded. “I already know.”

Billy took another step toward George and stopped. “You don’t seem all that put out.”

George shrugged his shoulders. “I ain’t.” He glanced to the side of the room. “Kyle said you wanted to see me. What for?”

“Some questions.” Billy gestured with his thumb toward the door. “Down at the station.”

George raised his left hand in protest and took two steps back. “No way, man.”

Billy used his left fingers curled in the shape of a gun and pointed to his belly. “Shot. Close range. We just wanna talk.”

George shook his head. “Can’t do it.”

“We’ll talk at the station.” Billy motioned with his palm pointing toward the floor. “Put the gun down, George. Drop it on the floor.”

George spun on his heel and hit the side of his head with his left fist. “It’s always in here, don’t let you have no peace.”

“Come with me, George. Just drop the gun first.”

“Rico, Tony, Joey, Sal, Carlos. They’re all gone.” George staggered backward. “Dead, every one of ‘em. But their faces, their voices.” He pounded his head with his left fist. “Still up here.”

He pressed his left palm against his eye socket, massaging his brow. “All the time, man. I can’t sleep, hold a job. I’m at fault, always to blame. Her nagging never ends.”

“We can get you help, George.”

George waved off Billy’s offer. “Tried that. Didn’t work none.”

“Put--” Billy took another step toward George. “Put the gun on the floor, George, and come with me.” Sweat ran down Billy’s temples and his neck. Patches of moisture darkened his uniform’s collar, armpits, the small of his back, and its front, over his pecs. While he watched George’s every move, he clenched his jaw and closed his fingers around the grip of his weapon.

“Marsha kept hounding me. Night and day. Wouldn’t never stop. I guess she had enough of me punching them holes in them walls, screaming, and waking up at night . . . ‘Get help,’ she kept yelling. But there ain’t no help for what’s in my head. It don’t never stop messing with me, man. It never stops.”

“I couldn’t take her no more.” George wiped the tears from his eyes. “So I shot her.”

Billy stepped backward, eyebrows raised, eyes wide opened. “What?”

“Get your freaking ears checked! I shot her! Shot her dead, man.”

Billy unholstered his weapon and leveled it on George. “Gotta take you in, George.”

George planted both feet, crouched, and aimed his gun at Billy. “I’ll shoot you before I--”

“I just wanna talk, George,” Billy said in a calm tone of voice. “Can we talk? Comrade to comrade?”

George relaxed his stance and lowered his gun toward the floor. “How’s about you radioing and sending your cop-buddies in the other direction while I go east. Brothers-in-arms have to stick together.”

Billy waved him off. “Can’t do that, George. I swore to uphold the--”

“Go f**k yourself, man.” George backed toward the shadows. “Still, ain’t going with you.” He raised his gun again and took aim.

Billy gripped his weapon with both hands to steady it. “George! Don’t!”

George squeezed the trigger.

Billy ducked.

CRACK went George’s gun.

BANG! BANG! Went Billy’s weapon.

Two bullets punctured George’s chest. The impact forced George backward, and he fell, sprawled on the floor, his massive hand still clutching the gun. Blood oozed from his chest wound, soaking his shirt. Underneath, a pool of blood spread on the concrete floor.

Billy stood over George’s body. “S**t!”

Kyle Morgan--wrinkled and soiled shirt and pants, unzipped, shirttail flapping, and blurry-eyed--stumbled out of the shadows, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “What the hell’s all the racket?”

Billy glanced toward Kyle and stepped backward. “George just missed me.”

Kyle squinted at the gun and then at Billy. “Couldn’t have, Billy.”

Billy was panting and waving his weapon toward George’s body. “Was him or me, Kyle. Him or me.” He staggered backward and wiped the sweat off his brow and out of his eyes.

Kyle pried the Pinovk toy pistol from George’s hand and showed it to Billy. “Got a whole pallet of these in back,” Kyle said, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder. “Kids love ‘em.” He shoved the toy in his belt.

Billy’s face scrunched up in disbelief. He waved his weapon in protest. “Said he killed his wife.”

“Marsha? Not ole George, Billy. He was so far round the bend he’d confess to offing Jimmy Hoffa if you’d ask him. Besides, Marsha shot herself. Was an accident.”

The muscles in Billy’s face numbed, his jaw dropped, cheeks drooped, mouth opened. His body trembled, and his knees buckled. But he caught himself and stood erect.

“They were fighting again. She got Georgie’s gun. They struggled. You know the rest.”

Billy was white as a sheet.

“You was played like a honky-tonk piano, Billy.”

Billy back-peddled. “No. He did it. Said so.”

Kyle pointed toward the back office. “You wanna see the gun?”

Billy turned away, waving his weapon in protest. “No need.”

“It’s on my desk, Billy,” Kyle said, turning toward the back office.

Billy pivoted and shouted. “Stop.”

Kyle cocked his head toward Billy.

“Gotta tie up loose ends, put two and two together,” Billy mumbled, stumbling backward. His feet entangled in a pile of rope.

“What the hell,” Billy shouted, reaching his arms out to grab something, anything. But he fell back, hit the nape of his neck on the tapered prong of the nearby forklift, and impaled himself on it.

Kyle recoiled at the sound of metal crunching bone. He rushed to check Billy, knelt next to him, and felt for a pulse--nothing. He stood, turned to look at George, and then at Billy. He hurried to the back room and returned with the gun. He put on a pair of gloves, wiped his prints off the gun, put it in George’s hand, and fired two shots toward Billy. He removed the gloves and hid them.

Kyle took out his phone and punched 9-1-1.

“What is your emergency?” the voice at the other end asked.

Kyle screamed into his phone. “Send cops! Two dead!”

“Calm down, sir. Say again.”

Kyle gave the operator the information and ended the call. He looked down at Billy. “Brothers-in-arms gotta stick together.”

He went to an open bin of toy guns and pitched the one from his belt onto the pile. Then he returned to the staging area, leaned against a pallet of supplies, and slid to the floor.

Kyle began rehearsing aloud his version of how Billy and George died. The wail of police sirens grew louder by the moment.