Prominence by Andrez Bergen

Before a further piece of wisdom I poke the chromed muzzle of my .45 calibre Auto-Ordnance into the front angle of her neck, between jawline and a noticeable laryngeal prominence.

“You know only six-point-two percent of women have them?”

“Have what?”

The brunette’s return comes out surprisingly confident despite the question mark. For my money, I reckon I’d be all croak if the positions were reversed. Examining her pretty face for sign of nerves leaves me impressed. Only the blue eyes let her down — the long-eyelashed lids blinking faster than usual.

Then again, some people do that.

“Have a prominent Adam’s apple,” I say.

Ought to pull the trigger now and have done with it. Shame to mess up the good-looks, but worse things do happen.

“Gets me in trouble,” she muses, gazing straight back along the barrel.

“How?” The query pops out before I think.

“Well, the odd paramour gets to thinking I’m a man in drag.”

“You’re kidding me?”

Heart’s hammering. Voice isn’t much better than the croak I mentioned earlier. She’s a looker, no matter the Adam’s apple.

“Sadly? No kidding. Some men get frightened.”

That’s not what frightens me. It’s the weakness enveloping my limbs while I take in the red, Cupid’s bow mouth and a lot of perfect skin that clings just right.

That mouth purses, almost a pucker, like she’s mulling over something and blowing me a kiss at the same time.

Before I know what’s happened she’s wrapped her right fingers around the pearl-handled pistol, gently removes it from my fist, twists the thing about, and has it pointed into the front angle of my neck — between the jawline and a likely bulging Adam’s apple.

The pout becomes a smile as she uses her southpaw to straighten the collar of her shirt to better cover the throat, and then the gun presses hard into mine.

“You know a hundred percent of men have them?”

“That so?” I mumble, flummoxed.

“Yep.” Her eyes now narrow, a breeze of grievance winging my way. “Forbidden fruit, my arse.”

Neck-Tied by Andrez Bergen

There’s blood on my hands yet I’m well nigh choking to death.

The weight behind me, somewhere I think near to my own, has that fishing line wrapped around my neck and is yanking hard. I’ve cut my fingers up trying to stop the wire slicing further into my throat—I can see bone sticking out from my left thumb.

How long has it been since I gobbled down a last breath of oxygen?

Feels like hours, probably only seconds. Passing out, I know—edges of everything blurring, head pounding, neck silently screaming on its sweet lonesome.

Desperation dictates my next manoeuvre, a frantic shove backwards that sandwiches my attacker between me and a mantelpiece stuck over the fireplace. I hear the wind come out of him, the wire loosens up the smallest fraction, and that’s enough for me to stick my left hand through the garrotte and take the pressure of the wire on my wrist—instead of further mutilating my fingers or my collar.

The blurring folds in on itself and there’s a moment of clarity. This is my moment, I realize, one final lucky chance prior to giving up the ghost.

So I lift my right arm high and quickly hammer back with the elbow, praying to some empty mead hall of Norse gods that I get this right and nail the bastard holding me, rather than smashing up my funny bone on the concrete wall.

I’m lucky.

I hit something soft, and it’s not a pillow.

The wire unravels from my neck, I swing round, and I lob a haymaker right where the head should be. Only it isn’t. This time I really do hammer the wall—I feel a few knuckles crack.

“Goddammit!” I hiss a croak, snapping my left arm free of the wire, and then cradling my busted up mitt in the fingers of the left hand while I hop up and down, trying not to bawl. I can still barely swallow and I gulp at air like a deranged guppy. Can’t quite recall when I remember about my assailant.

I try to pull myself together and look to the floor.

There, spread-eagled by my shoes, is a small man probably half my weight. I’d been  amiss. Looked also half my height. From the state of his right eye, which had ruptured, I could more accurately say my elbow had struck him there, instead of in the chest or stomach like I presumed. Messy. Currently out for the count, the bastard will need medical assistance and an eye-patch post haste.

I take my fine time as I try to clear my throat, making unpleasant sounds.

In addition, there’s the fishing line at my feet to inspect. I hold the weapon aloft, looking past the bits of skin and droplets of blood. Superior piece of workmanship—a strong, braided monofilament core wrapped up in thick, waterproof PVC sheathing. The perfect weight and mass necessary to cast an artificial fly with a fly rod, and not a bad choice for doing a Gurkha on someone.

I measure the length and make some quick calculations. Wondering about strength versus weight contradictions, I flex the wire and pull hard. It cuts again into my fingers. Actually, there’s blood everywhere, all over my clothes, mine, and I suppose I’ll also need medicating soon enough.

But in this day and age it’s difficult to find decent fishing line, so I carefully roll up the line and stick it in my coat pocket, and then squat beside the dwarf. He’s waking up. Hasn’t yet realized he now has two-dimensional vision. There’s one question to ask before I call in to Branch and rat out the silly prick.

I grab him by his shirt and yank him up into a sitting position. He swoons but anyway manages to focus the leftie my way.

“Any idea, mate,” I ask, “where I can find some decent live fish?”

Come Out Swinging by Andrez Bergen

I stepped up to the plate and moved to king-hit the bastard from behind.

Sure it was cowardly, but also a pretty nifty manoeuvre, done without a moment to second-guess myself or opportunity to nut out a different course of action. His head was unprotected, an obvious target dressed up in messy, straw-coloured hair. A neck thicker than my waist propped up that noggin—quite some feat, given the extra girth I’d put on in recent months of alcoholic mayhem and loafing about on the couch.

At least this wasn’t going to kill him. No need to get blood on my hands, since the mitts were clean and I preferred them to stay that way.

Trouble was that the man apparently sensed me behind him, and second-guessed my intentions to boot. He ducked as I swung the gun, and I ended up glancing the handle off his scalp instead of getting in a heavy enough whack to knock him senseless.

Then, while I was off balance, he turned and grabbed me by the throat, huge fingers digging deep into my larynx, and a second later I’d been deprived of both the capacity to squeal and the ability to breathe. He lifted me up one handed, so my shoes no longer touched the ground, and I was ogling a human gorilla inches from my face, a dribble of saliva in the corner of his snarled mouth.

With his free hand he slapped me once, twice, a third time.

I was seeing stars, and other delusionary paraphernalia. It felt like this time, finally, the gig might truly be up. Thoughts shunted in between the sparkling stars, images of Laurel, and Veronica, and what would likely happen to both if I gave up the ghost, pulling up the personal tent-pegs here and now.

I still had the gun in my right fist. I could pop him in the jaw, put a slug in his eye, get it over with, but something held me back. I wouldn’t call this a conscience—it was more like stubborn, idiotic madness.

Another slap knocked me silly. I could see specks of blood on the man’s chunky, enraged face. Not his blood. Mine.

So I swung at my own blood, right at a big splash of it on his forehead, lined up like a bull’s-eye. The gun barrel bounced off, but the man shook his head, like it hurt, so I tried again, and again. The fourth time rocked it—I fell flat on my bum, oxygen started pumping, and the gorilla stormed around me, like he was doing some kind of blind Indian rain dance, clutching his skull, screaming.

Then he barnstormed the wall, head first, and knocked himself out. He lay at my feet, unmoving. At least he’d stopped the over-dramatics.

My head was swimming enough as it was. I had to road test my voice, to see if it still worked. “Sleep tight,” I muttered. Nothing more sparkling came to me. The weak quip would have to do—even if I did have an audience.

Laurel was bound and gagged over in a corner, next to a widescreen TV, like she’d been placed there as a second-thought Christmas decoration. I went straight over, leaned down, and touched her cheek. Her eyes were wide, even the one on the left that was swollen and ringed with blue-black.

Without waiting for applause, I undid her wrists and pulled off the material jammed into her mouth. Laurel could deal with the feet herself.

After breathing deeply a few times, apparently relishing the opportunity, the woman looked straight at me without the gratitude I expected.

“You look awful,” she complained. “Do you always make it so hard for yourself, babe? You could’ve just shot him. You had ample opportunity. Jeez.”

I swear I must’ve glowered. “D’you want me to put the gag back on?”