I learned how to die from watching old movies on TV.  Our industrial Chicago suburban neighborhood was a landscape of junk yards, burnt down restaurants and abandoned factories that became settings for the gunplay and death played out by children.  Sometimes the scene was a bomb ravaged WWII battlefield and sometimes cops and robbers, whatever, it was based on those old movies.  We fought with plastic pistols, sticks that became M-16s and Thompson Machine Guns in our dirty and scabbed arms.  Stubs of wood became daggers that pierced our child hearts.  We became desperate men hunting each other across the alleys, jungles and dark streets of our violent imaginations. 

Those old movies showed how the dead fell with a hand to the chest and did a twirl or clutching fall to the earth.  Rarely was there blood.  Never gore.  For us kids, it was all calm falling towards a shut-eyed waiting while the other kids said, “Time to get up.  You died real good.”

Chubby Vince was the champion of dying.  No one died as good as Vince.  He gasped, bugged out his eyes, begged for his mother, fell to the ground, crawled, reached out for his killer.  He put out all the stops.  Like the rest of us, he learned how to die from hammy B-movie actors in black and white, but he gave it his own personal spin.

The older I got, the more death, the real kind, came into my life.  Relatives passed away from old age, fires and drunken car wrecks.  In junior high, a kid I knew got hit by a car while crossing busy North Avenue.  He had just gotten released from juvie hall and was on his way to the bowling alley to play some pinball.  Shit happens. 

I managed to get out of high school and worked a series of dead end jobs: worked in a plastic factory making chicken gut tubs, delivered Chinese food and worked as a telemarketer for a chimney sweep company.  I sold some drugs on the side.  I lived at home with my drunken dad and his new girlfriend in the same house I grew up in.  I gave myself haircuts that were close to the scalp.  I wore black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and Levis.  I was nineteen and had my chin out to the world. 

I had my old room the same as when I was in high school. It had blue-green shag carpeting with bong water stains, black light posters of demons and couples in Kama Sutra positions, my JC Penney stereo, my albums (70s rock and 80s hardcore punk.  Couldn’t bear to toss out my Yes and King Crimson records even if they were irrelevant. 

Like I said, shit changes.  Denny had gone to prison for freaking out on acid and taking a shit in some stranger’s house right on their white carpeting.  He’d done a year at Joliet and got out on three years probation or something.  He came out paler, shakier, not quite right in the head.  I don’t know if it was the acid or prison that’d done it to him. No one had the nerve to ask him if he got fucked in the ass or something. Anyway, we hung out and Denny helped me sling my dope and rode shotgun in my shark gray ‘75 Mercury Monarch that I called the “Anarch”.  

Vince had gotten fatter and fatter.  He blamed it on a “thyroid condition”. One time I saw him eat a whole box of Little Debbie’s, so I knew it wasn’t no “thyroid condition.” Vince got a job as a security guard at a construction site.  Oh, yeah, and he also got himself a King Kong sized coke habit.  I fronted him product when he was short and the weeks it took for him to pay me back turned into months.  I still had to pay for the coke, so I was losing money.  As much coke as Vince snorted, you’d think he would have lost some of that ham on his ass and belly.  Maybe he doubled up on the Little Debbies.

It was one of the first cold nights of October. The stars were white and cold in a bruise colored sky.  Me and Denny drove down North Avenue past liquor stores, Italian Beef stands and carpet stores.  An AM talk radio guy was going on and on about how great Reagan was.  I switched it off and put on a cassette tape of the new Black Flag jam “My War”.  The music came out like a growing threat.  Denny bopped his head.

“This shit rocks like a motherfucker,” he said, his eyes wide.

I nodded my head and rolled down my window to toss my cigarette butt.

I pulled off onto a side street and rode past tire treaded fields to a dirty–white aluminum trailer, its windows glowing with fluorescent lights.  I could make out Vince’s fat silhouette sitting at a table in there.  His rotten egg yolk colored ‘73 Gremlin was the only car parked by the trailer.  I turned the headlights off and crept the Mercury “Anarch” up to the trailer.  We got out and left the car doors open.  I cracked the screen-door and went inside without knocking.
Vince looked up guiltily from the stroke book he was eyeballing.  He was wearing a polyester security guard uniform complete with a fake cop hat.  The patch on his shoulder said “A-1 Security.”

“Zip up your pants, dude,” I said. 

Stroke magazines were fanned out on the table.  Everything from Penthouse to the most hardcore and rank shit.  The pages were bent and some had foul stains like water damage but I knew it wasn’t water damage. 

“What’s with all the pornos?” asked Denny.

“The construction guys.  They belong to them.  The boss keeps ’em around.”

I picked up a magazine called “Night Call Nurses.” The cover showed a red head dressed like an old time nurse with the little white hat and white stockings sucking a guy’s dick..

I flipped through the pages and then tossed it back on the stack.  “The classics,” I said.

Vince was shaking.  “What’s up?” he asked.

“I see you still got the rent-a-cop gig.  So what’s the problem?”


“Yeah, payin’ me for all the coke you got off me.”

“I told you, man.  I got bills to pay.”

“You’re my friend and shit, but enough’s enough.”

Denny went over to some cabinets and started opening them.

“Anything worth anything in here?” Denny asked.

“Don’t touch nothin’, Denny.  It’s my ass if anything goes missing.”

“That’s a whole lotta ass,” snickered Denny, picking up a ballpeen hammer and tossing it into a sink.

“You’re fuckin’ high right now, ain’t you?” I asked.

Vince’s eyes were pinned and his right foot was pounding out a rhythm.

“If you got money to get dope somewhere else, you got money to pay me, you fat fuck.”

Vince cut a fart that sounded like a wet rag over a trumpet.  A foul stink filled the trailer.

“What the fuck?” Denny said.

“I ate some bad gyros,” said Vince, shifting in his chair.

I kicked his drumming leg.

“Stop it.  Hey, I got problems,” Vince whined.

“Fuckin’ tweaker,” I said and picked up one of the stroke books, a woman was dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, her bare ass sticking out as she held herself exposed like a cat in heat.  I dropped the magazine.

“You got a job protectin’ a trailer full of pussy books. What kinda problems you got?”

“I’m responsible for this whole construction site!” Vince said, waving his arms around.

Denny walked up behind Vince and tapped him in the head with his palm.

“Stop it, Denny!” Vince said.

Vince’s hammy face turned red and then a dark purple.  Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Just cut it out, guys.  What’s up with you? You’re supposed to be my friends!”

“Do I look like Santa Claus to you?” I asked.

“Yeah, does he got a big white beard?” Denny snickered, kicking at the back of Vince’s straight back chair.

“Can’t get blood from a stone,” Vince whispered.

I backhanded him hard across the face.  A dark drool of blood came from his nostrils and ran down his round cheeks.

“Shit, you broke my nose!”

“It’s from all the blow you been doin’, lard ass!” I shouted.

He started to stand up.  I pushed him back down.

“Get out your wallet,” I said.

“I told you that I’m tapped.”

I grabbed him by his clip-on tie and threw it to the trailer floor. 

“Get our your fuckin’ wallet!”

“It better not smell like no gyros farts either,” I said.

Vince struggled to pull his wallet from his back pocket.  It was made out of some kind of cheap material with Velcro and had a patch that said “Fear” on it. 

“Fuckin’ Fear, huh?”

“Lee Ving rocks,” Vince whined.

I opened the Velcro strip, “Fuckin’ cartoon punk rock shit.”

I found a five and two ones.  I dumped all of the lint and pictures of relatives onto the trailer floor.  I threw the wallet into the sink with the ballpeen hammer.
I crammed the money in the front of my jeans.

“I’ll get the rest later,” Vince said wiping the blood from his face and looking at the dark red streak on his freckled arm.

“Fuckin’ same song over and over with you,” said Denny, the ballpeen hammer now cradled in his arms.

“Denny, gimme that hammer before you hurt someone,” I said. 

Denny handed over the ballpeen hammer.  It had a short handle and a blue hammer head.  Stripes of blue paint were missing from where it had been hitting stuff. 

“You didn't have to throw my pictures and shit on the floor,”  Vince said.

I swung the hammer and hit Vince in the side of the head.  He sprawled out of the chair.  The first thing I saw was that his grey rent-a-cop shirt had come out of his pants and his belly flopped out on the trailer floor.  He was crying like a baby and holding the side of his head.  He sat up and I could see blood coming out of his crew cut. 

“Fuck, man!” he yelled.

“Get the money from your parents.”

“They ain’t got any money.”

I turned away from Vince and Denny and looked down at the floor.  The blood had spattered into quarter size exploding suns on the filthy wilting linoleum.

“Gotta take me to a hospital.”

“I ain’t got to do nothin’” I said, swinging the hammer against his head again.  I was screaming inside.  I was white hot and giving myself to a rage I kept jarred up inside.

I opened my eyes and Vince’s eyes were open, his tongue was lolling around and he was making sick sounds like a retard.  Dark blood came from his mouth and flared out onto the floor.  More blood came from the ear that faced me.  It came from his ear like a dark red bolt of slow lightning.
I looked down at Vince.  He struggled and flopped like a fish on dry land.  His eyes stared into my face.  Then he stopped moving.  I could hear Denny’s hard breathing. 

“Fuck,” Denny said.

I looked around and saw all the blood spatters.  I saw fingerprints of blood and didn’t know if they were mine, Vince’s or Denny’s.  I felt a dead resignation to whatever was going to happen.  I hefted the ballpeen hammer in one hand and said, “Take this with us and drop it in the fuckin’ sewage pond.”

Denny nodded.

“You didn’t have to...” Denny started but didn’t finish.

I opened the door to the trailer.  I paused and looked back at Vince.  The blood was pooling around his head. 

“Yes, I did.”

No one died as good as Vince. 


Jeff Kerr lives in Waukegan, IL with his dog Griff. Kerr is currently working on two novels. His work has appeared in Hardboiled, Hardluck Stories, Now and Then, Appalachian Heritage and other publications. He won a 2006 Plattner Award for his short story "The Miner's Friend." He can be reached at JeffKerr65@hotmail.com.