Short Story
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                                           By Alexander Osburn

His tires squealed as he peeled out of the gas station parking lot, blotting out
the stars above him with dark smoke and filling the air with the smell of burning
rubber.  Leblanc wasn’t trying to impress any one; he was the only person
around here still breathing.  For some reason, he had just always loved that
smell.  He lit a cigarette and rolled down the window of his car, thankful for the
cold air that cooled him and blew his black hair back off his face.  On the
passenger seat, where his former partner sat only half an hour before, sat his
pistol, still warm with the night’s action.

Leblanc stared a moment at his gun, with a look a mother might have looking
upon her child asleep in their bed.  It was a .357 magnum and he always felt
like Dirty Harry when he held it.  Only Clint never shot any chain smoking old
ladies in a gas station at three in the morning.  Leblanc had bought it when he
was nineteen off of some random hood he had known in Chicago.  That had
been a long time ago, before extended clips and the big ugly square weapons
people called pistols today.  How could you bond with a gun like that?  His
piece however, was art, timeless in its beauty.  Leblanc really was just a
romantic at heart.  He also had about three hundred dollars crumpled up in his
pockets that had previously belonged to the Fill and Chill gas station.  The
money was nice but he didn’t need it, he had needed gas.

Jack Leblanc and Victor “Dusty” Scalone had pulled into the gas station at two
thirty.  Leblanc wanted gas and Dusty wanted to “waste” someone.  “I NEED to
waste someone man, I’m like jonesin’ y’know?  I see the old bag in there now,
she’s gonna miss Murder She Wrote.”  Victor snorted laughter at his own joke,
running his hands through the dirty blonde mop of hair Leblanc doubted had
ever been washed.   As they got out of the car and headed for the door, Victor
doing a little skip dance ahead of him, Leblanc eyed his partner of the last few
months.  He was scrawny and pale, not an ounce of muscle on him.  If he hadn’
t had a piece on him, Victor would have been just another sniveling coward,
too weak to take what he wanted.  

Leblanc took in the dirty white t-shirt and tattered jeans.  He counted every
acne blemish on Victor’s face, the patchy stubble that he refused to shave
infuriated Leblanc.  How could you go through life not giving a shit about how
you looked?  You had to be presentable to people, even if you were about to
blow their brains out.  Leblanc looked at himself in the reflection of the gas
station door.  He was pleasantly built, not too large as to make people
uncomfortable and not small enough where people thought he wasn’t
threatening.  His black hair was brushed back and parted, there was much
more gray in it then he preferred but that was part of getting old.  His green
polo shirt was flawlessly clean and without a wrinkle.  His black dress pants
were smooth and equally perfect, his shoes were pleasantly shined.  

Leblanc paused a moment looking at the tattoos up and down his forearm,
they made him look like a thug.  He couldn’t stand them now and usually wore
a jacket.  Leblanc had been young once too, and these were a permanent
reminder of how stupid he had been.  More than once they had cost him the
most important ingredient to a successful job, his victim’s trust.  Leblanc
looked back to Victor, who was now waving at the old lady with a big yellow
toothed smile.  He hated this kid.

Victor was young, twenty something and was eager to kill.  Before every hit
Leblanc had to listen to how Victor needed to waste some one or he’d just die
himself.  Every time Leblanc would let some one live, it was hours before Victor
would shut up.  Leblanc hated killers, hated them because they were a risk.  
They went out of their way to murder people and that drew attention.  Leblanc
didn’t like killing people, he only did it when a person’s continued existence
hindered Leblanc from his goals or, Leblanc thought looking at Victor, when
they were really fucking annoying.

A little bell rang as they entered the gas station; Journey was playing on the
speakers.  Leblanc loved Journey.  A heavy old lady sat behind the counter
smoking one of those long thin cigarettes that people thought looked elegant
and thumbing through a magazine.  She looked up and smiled at both of them,
“Howdy boys! Late night, huh?”

Leblanc smiled and nodded, noting the camera in the corner, making sure he
wasn’t in its field of vision.  Victor walked directly into that field, the shining
lights of madness in his eyes should have warned the old lady she was in
trouble, he immediately drew his gun giggling at the old lady’s look of horror,
“Sure is mam!  But yours is about to end abruptly.”

“Victor.” Leblanc barely whispered and calmly drew his own piece.  Even over
that high pitched giggling and despite the promise of blood shed, Leblanc’s
low calm voice penetrated the dark twisted thing that was Victor’s brain.  He
turned around with that wide childish yellow smile, realization dawned on his
acne spotted face and he began whimpering, “Hey man, don’t point that at me,
I won’t waste her if you don’t want me to.” His eyes were bulging, it never once
occurred to him to use the gun in his hand.

“It’s got nothing to do with her, kid.” Leblanc smiled as he pulled the trigger.  
He had wanted to ask his partner if he was feeling lucky, but avoided the
temptation.  Victor’s hands went up to cover his face, a sad useless shield, as
he flew back through a display of Twinkies.  His feet hanging over the wire
shelf was all Leblanc could see of his former partner, he was thankful for that.  
Leblanc hated blood.  The old lady had vanished behind the counter and he
could hear her hysterically crying and muttering, Leblanc realized she was
praying.  He squeezed off another round into the camera, it exploded and
sparks flew. Leblanc had always been pleased with his aim.  He cautiously
stuck his head over the counter, “The money dear.”

“P-please don’t hurt me.” The old lady whimpered as she opened the register
and handed him its contents, “I’ve got a family.”  Her eyes were desperate and

“Don’t worry dear; it will all be over soon, Camel Menthols please.” He smiled
at her with his perfectly white and perfectly straight teeth.  His mother use to
say his smile could calm a mouse in a snake’s cage.  She turned around
cautiously and reached for the cigarettes, that’s when Leblanc pulled the
trigger for the third time that night.  She slumped against the racks of tobacco
and slid down.  He knew she hadn’t felt a thing.  “It’s over dear, sleep well, and
may your god greet you with open arms.”

Leblanc was roaring down the high way, smoking and feeling completely at
peace.  He wanted to find a nice cheap motel.  Leblanc was going to take a
few days off to rest and celebrate the start of his new Victor-less life.  He was
watching the sky turn from an inky blue to the dim gray of morning.  A
southern preacher was blathering on and on about god and judgment day on
the radio, the old lady had inspired him to let in a little faith tonight.  His mother
had wanted him to be a preacher, said he was born to lead people to light.  He
smiled at this, he had loved his mother with all his heart but a person couldn’t
get much more wrong.

“That was an awfully shitty thing to do man.” A familiar voice said to his right.
Leblanc looked over and for the first time in a long time felt a tight cramp in his
stomach, he was afraid.  Sweat beaded on his forehead as he stared.  The
preacher was continuing on unaffected by the new addition to his sermon in
the car, he was speaking of redemption and the man who had paid for all our
sins but wouldn’t hesitate to toss our ungrateful little souls into the giant easy
bake oven below.  Victor was sitting there, well most of him at least.  Half of his
face was gone along with one of his hands.  The one eye he had left was
staring accusingly at Leblanc.  He was colorless, completely black and white
and Leblanc would see the passing scenery through him.  The dirty white shirt
was now covered with a dark silvery mess.  The car suddenly reeked of the
acrid smell of spent gunpowder.

“Awfully shitty, we were partners, you could have at least let me waste the old
bag before you did it.” As the apparition of Victor said this he reached down
and grabbed Leblanc’s cigarettes.  No, he pulled a ghostly pack out of Leblanc’
s pack, pulled out an equally ghostly cigarette and lit it with a ghost Zippo.

“You had to go kid, you were a risk.” Leblanc said, turning his attention back
to the road, he was dimly aware he was reasoning with a man he had killed
only a few miles back, “You’re  not here so I don’t know why I’m answering you,
maybe I’ve snapped.”

“Nah, man, you’re fine.  Cool as always, as sane as any bastard who would
shoot their buddy in the face for no damn reason.”  Victor did that annoying
giggle and Leblanc’s fists tightened on the wheel, “although, by the time I’m
done with you, you’re gonna wish you were nuts.”  That giggle again, Leblanc
would kill him again, although he hadn’t figured out how exactly he could do

“By the time you’re done with me?  What are you gonna do Vic?  You’re
smoked; you’re lying amidst a pile of smashed Twinkies eighty miles back.  
What can you do to me?” Leblanc was too angry to be scared now; this
scrawny little pile of worm food was going to threaten him?

“True man, very true...” Victor hesitated, “I can’t touch you, hell, I can’t
REALLY touch anything any more,” Victor waved the cigarette apparition at
Leblanc, “but ol’ partner, don’t you worry, I can keep you company.  I can stick
around as long as I like, and you can’t do shit about it man.  We should waste
some people, y’know, for old time’s sake.  Remember?  Before you shot me in
the face.”

“You’re going to keep bringing that up aren’t you Vic?” Leblanc muttered,
grabbing another cigarette out of his pack, he found the concept of a ghostly
Victor as a constant companion quite stressful.

“Well, it’s kind of a big deal to me man, it was an awfully shitty thing to do.”  
Victor clicked his tongue and solemnly nodded his head, “but it’s in the past!  
Forgive and forget, right Amigo?”  Victor began the snorting laugh that
Leblanc hated more than the constant fit of giggles, “I can’t stay pissed at you
forever, I mean we’re going to be spending an awful lot of time together!”  
Victor’s grin was still wide and childish, but in that one eye Leblanc could see
bright hate shining out.  Leblanc focused on the road, contemplating exactly
how to deal with this new turn of events.

“Hand me that bottle in the glove box will you Vic?” Leblanc said without taking
his eyes out of the road.  He thought about the way Vic had taken the ghost
cigarettes, “On second thought, I’ll get it myself.”  As he reached for the glove
box, Victor put his hand over it; Leblanc had to focus to not pull his hand back
with a scream when it made contact, no…went through Vic’s hand.  It was
painfully cold, felt moist too, like fog, but that wasn’t what had gotten to
Leblanc.  It was the feeling of squirming over his hand; he couldn’t see
anything but he felt the maggots wriggling up his arms, squeezing through his
fingers.  With only the slightest pause, Leblanc opened up the glove box and
pulled out what had been his hand’s mission, a bottle of whiskey.  He
unscrewed the top, and chugged a mouthful.

“Not a bad idea there man, certainly couldn’t hurt.  Be careful to not overdue it
though, the last thing you want to do is be stuck with me AND be all banged
up.” Vic laughed, the flaps of skin moving in and out of the bullet wound with
his breath.          

With that final image, Leblanc put the pedal to the floor and slammed into the
nearest thing he could, the cement barrier on the side of the road.  As he flew
through the window it was with a smile.  If this was his only option, he thought,
it was fine by him.  Jack Leblanc would be damned if he was gonna let that
filthy freak Scalone win anything against him.  The last thing he saw was the
tree parts of him would be embedded in.

“Nice one, had me scared for a moment.  Good to see you’re okay though,
better pay attention, you’re gonna crash!”  That laugh again.

Leblanc jerked the wheel to the right, leveling the car out.  He stared straight
ahead; experiencing confusion so deep it numbed his reeling mind.  The car
hadn’t crashed, but he remembered it.  He ran his hand over his face, he
remembered going through the glass.  He looked into the rearview mirror and
saw the wreckage of what was left of his car.  The tree his earthly remains
were residing in was waving its leaves in fond farewell.  Slowly, he turned to
look at Victor.

“Told you we’d be spending a lot of time together.” This time he wasn’t smiling
in the slightest.