On our family trip to the beach, I stopped in Clanton, Alabama to kill a man.
We were starting a new tradition. My wife had spent time along the white sands and turquoise waters of the Emerald Coast as a child. They were her best memories. A lifelong fondness for nature and sea turtles developed. She said it was good to start the kids early. Get them used to the water, sun and long car rides. Let them feel something besides cut grass and Y pool water between their toes.
For a week, we scrolled VRBO listings. I read about destinations like I was picking a new car. Trying to see myself there. We had narrowed it down. Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, and Navarre Beach.
On Google Maps, I street-viewed the Flordia-Bama lounge on Perdido Key. It was across from a hotel we’d read about and liked. In the parking lot, as I drove down the road with my fingers, were two pick-up trucks, jacked up on tractor tires, sporting confederate flags. Perdido Key was unanimously dropped off the list.
Navarre was my vote from the beginning. I read it was the quiet side of paradise. Tranquil. My wife wanted Pensacola Beach. We put the question to the kids over chicken fettuccini. She pitched an angle:
“Kids, do you want go some place quiet or some place with a free trolley and a beach ball water tower where we can see fighter jets fly over?”
Our kids were five and eight at the time. They slurped noodles, sauce collecting in the corners of their mouths. It wasn’t even close.
The thought of Pensacola grew on me over the next month. I read about it’s unique history. The gulf vibe. A mixture of warm-weather narratives. A blend of Spanish, Deep South, and island culture. Birthplace of the bushwhacker. Home of the Blue Angles. I bought a big straw hat and a new pair of flip flops in preparation.
Then I started preparing for the other part of the trip. Pulled the locked, black Pelican case from the false wall in the basement, behind my work bench next to the washer. Cleaned my
Walther PPQ M2 .45. Laid the parts out neatly on the card table while I ran a load of whites. I attached the Banish Suppressor. Squeezed a dry trigger around corners of the basement. Movements natural. Muscle memory just like shooting free throws after all these years. Cleaned and loaded my Ruger 9mm back up out of habit.
I took them to the range one day after work. Shoot Point Blank in Centerville. I was a semi-regular. Only a couple minutes from the office. They had a good deal on bullets that day. Bought a couple boxes of hollow points and some target grade .380s. The kid at the counter told me about a lunchtime membership special. For workers in nearby office parks, he said. Guess he had me pegged. Called it the “Stress Reduction Package.”
I politely declined and sighted in my hardware.
Two days later, we were on the road. Started early. Stopped for lunch at an Applebee’s in Athens, Alabama. Just across the Tennessee border, past the Saturn 1B rocket, proudly displayed on I-65, at a rest park near Huntsville.
I ate a chicken Caesar salad. We talked about how big the pool was at the condo. Looked at pictures of it on my phone. My wife reminded us about her favorite restaurants. We made a list. Planned the week out more than we should have. I checked the weather. Sunny and 88. Perfection encapsulated.
The fat southern sun faded as we hit Exit 208 for Clanton. We’d booked a room at the Best Western. Cut the thirteen hour drive down from grueling to boring. We sat next to the pool while the kids swam and I told my wife I had to go into town. She looked confused. I sighed and made my confession.
I wanted to learn to snorkel. There was a pool and surf shop in town. A place to find a good deal before you entered Gulf country where anything related to the water was overpriced and cheaply made. She knew I’d lived down here before we met. I’d told her that much. She’d assumed I was cutting my teeth in the insurance business. Which was only half true. I’d learned about debts and collections. The ins and outs of my trade.
She giggled and touched my shoulder. Said she liked it when I pursued hobbies. My little projects, she called them.
I drove to the pool store across town. It was stuck in time, buried deep in my memory. Green linoleum. The smell of plastic floaties. I asked for the bathroom. The girl at the counter pointed to the back. The narrow, carpeted hallway leading to the main office creaked in the same places. The walls of my training ground were still painted aqua blue. I heard voices. Three men. I kicked the door open. Recognized two of them. Walther already extended. The pistol spat three times. One in the head for each of the two men on my side of the desk. One in the throat of the man behind it.
I crouched over him. Told him it was just another job. Another debt. Felt a strange symmetry. Like poetry between my ears. Ending the life of the thing who created me. I watched him die like everyone else. Desperate and alone. Before he was gone, the old man tried to speak, but only gurgled on his own blood. I saw his hand move. He gave me the finger. I heard a buzz. His phone in his other hand.
I pressed his thumb onto the fingerprint reader. The message app opened automatically. A picture was at the bottom of the chain. I swiped to zoom in. My heart skipped into my throat. It was my wife and kids, at the Best Western pool, playing where I’d left them. The message read:
Brennan Burks’ fiction has appeared in Pulp Noir and Gravel Lit Magazine. He’s working on his first flash fiction collection as well as his debut novel. Often at the same time. Because they’re both about crime. He lives in Ohio with his wife, two kids and two dogs. He occasionally tweets at @BBurks_writer.