“The Long Game” by Rachael Acks

“The Long Game” by Rachael Acks

The first time Gavin MacRaed set eyes on the man affectionately known in the Tribune as Jimmy Flash-Bang, his soon-to-be boss was spitting one of his teeth out onto the sticky floor of a gin joint. It wasn’t a promising start to a professional association. Gavin wouldn’t have even recognized the man as the fabled Flash-Bang if he hadn’t caught a glimpse of those trademark brass knuckles right before they slammed into the gut of a well-muscled tough.

Gavin peeled his half-finished gin and tonic off the sticky bar top and moved well back.

“Don’t worry about it,” a man said in his ear.

Gavin was nervous by nature, but he’d lubricated his courage enough that he didn’t spill, or squeak. He still felt like he wanted to crawl out of the top of his head as he attempted a casual smile. “I take it you’re another of my new business partners?”

“You say it so delicate.” The man who’d spoken was short, and wore a well-tailored pin-striped suit and a red silk tie.

“This isn’t inspiring much confidence.”

Jimmy Flash-Bang took a fist to the face and stumbled back. He shot a quick glance behind him, so fast Gavin almost missed it, and his teeth flashed in a white grin against his dark skin. Then he shifted his direction ever so slightly and ran into a table, arms flailing to knock a drink into a woman’s cleavage, just waiting there, framed by a low-cut scarlet dress. The woman’s male friend was up in an instant, his chair clattering over backwards.

“Yeah, well…Jimmy’s got a particular way of doing things. Let’s get out of here. It’s about to go all ugly.” He grabbed Gavin’s sleeve and pulled him out the back door, just as a table went over in a cacophony of shattering glass.

* * *

The short man turned out to be called Little Macky, and didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He smoked Cuban cigars like black bananas and wore enough pomade to make his hair unpleasantly greasy and limp.

“Don’t let it phase you,” he told Gavin. “Jimmy’s solid. You’ve heard about us; Tony the Shrike sent you, right? The money’s good. I ain’t seen a heist go wrong the whole time I been in, God’s honest truth.”

Gavin cocked his head slightly at another loud crash, muffled only slightly by the door. “I certainly hope it goes better for him than this.”

“Thing is, Jimmy’s just got the worst luck ever with the ladies. He got cursed by this old fortune teller at a carnival.”

“Now I know you’re just playing with me.”

“God’s honest truth. He did some stupid stunt to try to impress this girl he was with, crashed into this old lady’s booth, and she cursed him on the spot. Scratched the back of his hand with her fingernails to mark him. Eyeball it, he’s still got the scars. So now every time he goes up to try to buy some lovely female a drink, she always has a man right behind her that’s larger than life and twice as mean.”

Gavin shook his head. It was one of the dumbest stories he’d heard in a long time, but he’d never liked arguing. “But he doesn’t run into trouble like this on the job?”

“‘Course not. He’s not hunting foxes on the job.”

“Then what happened to your last safe man?”

Little Macky laughed. “Well, my friend. Therein lies a tale.”

* * *

Gavin was a safe man in every sense of the word. He had long, sensitive fingers and a good ear. There wasn’t a lock that had defeated him yet. And he didn’t like being startled, or the stress of uncertainty, or any kind of flash and glitz. Those things gave him hives.

Problem was, Gavin also needed money. Because while Gavin had a good ear and eye for anything mechanical, it didn’t transfer well to the ponies. And while Gavin didn’t ever have lady trouble, he occasionally had trouble of the male variety that had to be exponentially more discreet — and therefore expensive.

So the story Little Macky imparted didn’t fill him with confidence; it made him itch surreptitiously at the back of his hand.

“Freak accident. God’s honest truth, may a brick fall on me if I lie.” — Just how many times had he said that in a court room? — “Carl, he was just waiting outside the bank, right? Thunderstorm blew out of nowhere and BOOM! Lightning. Shouldn’t have been standing right under the street lamp, poor sucker.”

“Oh my.” Lightning did sound accidental.

“But that ain’t the half of it! The lightning didn’t kill him, see?” Little Macky grinned around his cigar, pausing to worry the end with his teeth. “So he went stumbling across the street, smoke pouring out his ears, and then a truck just BAM. Runs him over.”

“What kind of truck?” Gavin had always liked details. They made the edges of life neater.

“Farm truck carrying a load of pigs. Damndest thing. Accidents don’t get much more freak than that.”

“Right.” At this point, a sane man would have said hell no. Gavin, if he’d had any druthers that weren’t already hocked at the pawn shop, would have run screaming down the street. But as things were, lightning and a truck full of pigs had nothing on what no-neck guys who owned stock in crowbar companies would shortly do to him if he didn’t get his hands on some cash.

He took the job.

* * *

First job, he found himself sitting in an alleyway behind the bank in a laundry truck with a Cuban best described as “massive,” whom everyone called “Duck.” Gavin had no idea why, and was a little too intimidated by Duck’s sheer size — he could have palmed Gavin’s head in one hand — to ask him. This was the part of being a criminal Gavin decided he liked the least, after the shouting and gunfire: the waiting, in a cloud of cheap cigarette smoke and uncomfortable silence. Waiting for the job to start, for the time when he could go make friends with a safe. Among their many other good qualities, safes didn’t smoke, pare their nails with a pocket knife, or listen to staticky jazz on the radio.

Gavin watched the cars zoom back and forth on the street at the end of the alley, watched the pedestrians cross on the sidewalk: men in business suits, women in dresses ranging from the formal to the indecent, kids toting suckers or Cokes. It was better than watching Duck, who breathed out criminal chic like he breathed out smoke, perfect hair and tailored suit looking like they’d just grown on him. It made Gavin feel fourteen and gawky again, ready any moment to be cornered out behind the school; that was the sort of thing that always happened when you made the unforgivable mistake of being obviously different. That Duck hadn’t said anything about it yet, and neither had Little Macky, left him torn between gratitude and wondering just when the other shoe would drop on his head and hopefully kill him this time.

Jimmy Flash-Bang cut through the crowd like a shark. He was hard to miss; royal purple wasn’t the most subtle color for a suit. He paused outside the alleyway and dug through his pockets. Small change rained down on the sidewalk around him, and then, with great deliberation, he unearthed a pencil and dropped that too. Then he moved along.

“What on Earth…” Gavin said.

Duck grinned. “Don’t worry, Jimmy done it on purpose.” He had a deep, smooth voice, like he should be on the radio instead of knocking over banks.

“I could see that. But why?”

“He’s lucky. Real lucky. Little things that he does, they seem weird, right? But whenever he does something like that, I never seen a job go wrong.”

“I fail to see what a pencil has to do with our job.” Gavin wanted everything in his world to count out neatly with no disjointed pennies rolling around. Out in the street, people paused to pick up the change, some furtive, some scrambling openly. The little yellow pencil got nudged from shoe to shoe until it rolled out of sight.

Duck laughed. He threw his cigarette butt out the truck’s window and lit a new one. “See, when Jimmy was fourteen, he was messing around in some barn, playing hooky. Horseshoe fell off the wall and nailed him on the head. I guess it did something to his brain, cause ever since, he just does one little thing and it all goes smooth as silk.”

That was an even dumber story than Little Macky’s yarn about the fortune teller. It lacked drama. “You’ve known Jimmy since he was fourteen?”

“Nope. But Carl did.”

Carl, the dead safe man and lightning rod. “Right,” Gavin said, face gone stiff as his voice. “Lucky Jimmy. So has a job ever gone wrong?”

Duck frowned; on his heavy face, it was a dire expression indeed. “Only once. When we lost Bobby.” Before Gavin could ask who that was, the clang of the alarm came faintly through the brick wall. “That’s us.” Duck hopped out of the truck, grabbing the bag of tools in one meaty hand. Gavin followed him, shoulders hunched against the noise and the chaos. At the end of a hall, the safe waited for him, and it was a beauty.

Gavin rested his ear on its cold metal door, shutting out the noise and confusion, the spits of Tommy gun fire being let off into the ceiling. He asked the safe for its secrets, and it whispered answers to him through the pads of his fingers. In less than two minutes, they had the money, the bonds, and a fine selection of jewelry.

Duck shoved it all into canvas laundry bags and yelled for Jimmy and Little Macky to head to the alley. Everything got piled into the back of the truck, the boys and the guns hiding in the white canvas. As Gavin climbed into the passenger seat, he heard more shouting and sirens echoing down the street.

A cop went flying by the mouth of the alley and landed in a tangled heap on the other side. A yellow pencil rolled slowly to a stop after him.

“Told you,” Duck said, slapping Gavin on the shoulder hard enough to bruise. He cranked over the engine and the truck lumbered out of the alley. They were well down the road before they saw any more cops, all racing in the opposite direction.

* * *

They went to a club after, where Jimmy bought them all dinner and highballs. There was a lot of slapping of backs and grinning and rehashing of the heist. Between the lobster and the steak, Jimmy stood, raising his glass high. “To Bobby. He’s not with us, but you know he sure as hell wishes he was.”

“To Bobby,” everyone repeated, even Gavin, since it seemed the thing to do.

He leaned over to Little Macky when Jimmy and Duck went off to shoot a round of pool. “Who’s Bobby? Duck mentioned him, too.”

Little Macky swallowed down the rest of his whiskey. “Jimmy’s big brother. They started this business together. About, oh, two years ago we had a heist go wrong. Only time ever. Jimmy was kind of under the weather that day, not his usual peppy self, so maybe that’s why. Cops were just down the street, came in before Carl even got the safe open. Bobby hustled us all out the back, got shot in the leg. Shut the back door behind us and kept the fuzz busy while we made a run for it. And that was it for him. He’s in the pen now. Life in prison.” He sighed and tilted his empty glass like it was another toast. “Stand-up guy, Bobby was. Always looking out for us. He deserved better.”

“Must be hard on the boss.” Must be lonely. Gavin felt the absence of his own family like a toothache, parents and two older brothers three states away. Only in his case the separation had been their decision, reinforced with a lot of angry shouting and quietly angrier praying, and the distance his. It had to be a thousand times harder on Jimmy, blameless for this one thing.

“Oh, you got no idea. Jimmy, he don’t say much, but I know it bugs him. Every time we pull off a job, we drink to Bobby.”

Pool cue in hand, Jimmy swung by the table and thumped down his empty glass, setting the half-finished G&Ts belonging to everyone else wobbling. “I’ll get the next round, boys!”

Duck came up behind him and smoothly relieved him of his cue before Jimmy swaggered to the bar. A leggy blond sidled on up. Jimmy turned, looked her up and down, and grinned.

A collective groan ran over the table and they hurried to finish their drinks before Jimmy got things going.

* * *

Another job went off without a hitch, another dinner on Jimmy’s tab. Gavin found himself sitting next to his boss, trying not to touch the faintly sticky wooden table. Little Macky claimed that this place did oysters without compare, but Gavin wasn’t impressed by the level of hygiene. Still, it was better than a sandwich eaten at home with only a half-feral marmalade tabby cat for company. None of the boys had tried to bite his hand yet.

“So how you feeling, Gavin, now that you got a couple jobs under your belt?” Jimmy asked. He downed a straight whiskey in one gulp.

“It’s not quite what I expected,” Gavin admitted. To be fair, going from testing and legally unlocking safes straight in to felonies, he hadn’t known what to expect at all. Tongue fueled by alcohol, he decided to just out and ask the question that had been bugging him since Little Macky and Duck had told him those obviously fake stories. “You know, Jimmy…everyone says you got a way about you. A certain luck…”

Jimmy laughed, then leaned in, voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “It ain’t luck, Gavin. The boys fed you some line about a curse or something, right? Well, wrong. Fact of the matter is, I’ve got a talent, my friend. Fish gotta swim, painters gotta paint, and I gotta do what I do.”

“And what is it exactly that you do?”

“I see things. Have since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. To me, the world looks like a big spider web, everything all strung together, right? So I look at that web, see how everything touches everything else, and I can find the one thread to cut, the one knot to loosen up, to make the whole damn thing go to pieces.”

A month ago, Gavin wouldn’t have believed it. He’d seen a lot in the intervening weeks, and God help him, it made more sense than the other stories. Though if what Jimmy claimed was true, Gavin really didn’t want to think too hard about unlucky Carl and the incident that had left this job so invitingly vacant.

“That’s the secret to my success. I make a damn good bank robber because I can get everyone chasing their own tails in five seconds flat, just because I see what book I should knock off of what desk so that twenty minutes down the road, some broad will trip over it and start a chain reaction.”

“Right.” One thing still didn’t follow. “Then why spend all your time off the job getting your face beat in?”

Jimmy grinned, the crazy, cockeyed look Gavin was learning to fear. “Because it’s fun.”

* * *

They only did a job or two a month, but every one went smooth as silk, with more than enough money to spread around the gang. They lived like kings and still had some to put away besides, and they hung together, partied together. Gavin had spent a lot of time alone before he’d become part of Jimmy’s gang. He still wasn’t certain how this worked, because it shouldn’t. But somehow he liked Little Macky and his foul cigars, Duck and his questionable taste in music. They were just the sort of people, rough and loud and exceedingly macho as Duck put it, who tended to use people like him as punching bags or — if he was lucky — just punch lines. But he actually looked forward to going to some dirty little hole in an alley and laughing while they told jokes.

And maybe they liked him back. Maybe?

Sixth month, ninth job, and Gavin was in the laundry truck again. Instead of Duck in the driver’s seat, though, it was Jimmy. Nobody argued with him when he wanted to change the routine; he was the man who made the jobs run like clockwork, after all. Crazy, Rube Goldberg-type clockwork.

Jimmy rolled a silver dollar across his knuckles to pass the time, back and forth. His hands were still cut and bruised from the near riot he’d started at a speakeasy two days before, and he had that far-off look as he stared out the windshield of the truck. It was a look he wore in rare, furtive moments, and Gavin wondered if it meant he was staring out into one of those webs of his, plotting how far it stretched. One of Jimmy’s cheeks puffed out with the remnants of a bruise, but it gave his profile a rugged cast that Gavin couldn’t help but appreciate, though he was cautious enough to admire only subtly.

Besides, he had other things on his mind than simple artistic appreciation. Gavin laced his fingers securely in his lap, trying to decide if he should keep his mouth shut or just ask the next, far more awkward question that had been plaguing him.

“Spit it out,” Jimmy said.

Gavin almost bit his tongue. “Excuse me?”

“It’s obvious you’ve been chewing over something for months,” Jimmy said, flipping the silver dollar into his palm. He turned to look at Gavin, brown eyes sparking with humor. “I’m a keen observer of the human condition. I catch on to these things.”

“Maybe.” Gavin pulled off his glasses and cleaned them with his handkerchief to buy a little time. “It’s just…I’ve been wondering. By now, I believe you when you say you’ve got your…knack. Very much.”

“How kind of you.”

“And obviously, your brother being in prison bothers you…”

“So why haven’t I sprung him?” Jimmy flipped the coin again. He didn’t seem upset; just resigned. “Well, Gavin, prison’s a lot more complicated than knocking over a little bank. There are a lot more people involved, a lot more factors, and a lot less room for mistakes. A bigger web, I guess you could say. And much as I want to spring my brother, I also got to think about you guys. If Bobby taught me one thing, it’s that no man is an island. He got into this mess by not thinking of himself first, and I made it worse by being a selfish schmuck.”

“You what…?”

“Let’s just say that me and my brother…we had some words before things went south. I said some things I shouldn’t have said. About some stuff he just…he’d trusted me about. So he was distracted and I was pouting like a little kid. Not minding my webs, ’cause I was just so mad that my big brother, he…well, it don’t matter.

“I’ve had a long time since then, to get my priorities straight. People, Gavin. People are what’s important. Fuck expectations. Fuck reputation. All that matters is you stick together. Even if it’s so dark you can’t see your own pecker to piss. You remember that, even if you can’t remember anything else. You stick with your family.” He shook his head and growled, “Goddamn Carl, couldn’t keep his nose to himself. And then he shoots his mouth off.”

The back of Gavin’s neck started itching as he wondered if his question also qualified as a nose being stuck where it didn’t belong. “Ah…anything I can do to help?”

Jimmy grinned, a hint of his normal humor crossing his face. “You already have, more than you know. Don’t you worry, I’m working the case. I said it was a big web, not an impossible one.” One last flip of the coin. It landed heads up. “You’ll like Bobby, Gavin. You two have a lot of interests that coincide.”

The nasty metallic shrill of the alarm cut off the thousand questions that little comment created. Jimmy grabbed the bags, pausing to throw a handful of gravel on the ground outside the door, and then Gavin followed him into the bank. The safe waited like an old friend; things went smooth and normal until they were piling the bonds into one of Jimmy’s bags.

Then all hell broke loose: shouting and gunfire from the bank lobby. Little Macky and Duck retreated into the back hallway, crowding around the safe room. Jimmy didn’t seem surprised, or excited. He just bundled up the money, same as normal, and started pushing everyone down the hall, past the offices and toward the back door.

At the end of the hall, the door wouldn’t open. Cursing and throwing out grins that really looked like grimaces, Little Macky and Duck turned, ready to fight their way out while Gavin cowered behind them. He’d always refused to carry a gun.

Jimmy snatched the Tommy gun out of Duck’s hands and sprinted back toward the lobby like a runner heading into home. He slid to a stop at the end of the hallway, standing square so it was impossible for Little Macky to shoot around him, and sprayed the room with bullets. Gavin covered his ears against the sharp retorts, the shattering glass, the screams.

“Jimmy!” Little Macky shouted. “You dumb shit, move it!”

Jimmy looked over his shoulder and grinned. The drum magazine on the Tommy gun clicked empty, and he didn’t move an inch, just calmly ejected the magazine, even though he didn’t have one to put in its place. Gavin peeped out between Duck and Little Macky in that moment of perfect silence, saw Jimmy as a dark silhouette that shielded them from the cops, then BANG —

Down Jimmy went, blood from his shoulder in a dark red spray across the oatmeal-colored walls and ceiling. Little Macky and Duck threw themselves on top of Gavin, crushing him against the floor, as more gunfire sounded.

A few minutes later, the cops hauled Gavin to his feet as he fought to breathe around the blood burbling from his freshly broken nose. As they spun him around to march him out, a glint, high up, caught his eye: a silver dollar shoved between the back door and its frame, effectively locking them in.

“You did this,” he whispered at Jimmy, as they were all being led away in handcuffs. He wanted to be angry, because the only alternative seemed to be pants-wetting terror at the thought he was well and truly caught up in one of Jimmy’s webs.

Jimmy, face sickly gray and one shoulder of his suit black and slick with blood, just grinned at him.

* * *

They all went to trial, then to the pen, where the lunch room was an old boy’s club, everyone reminiscing about their glory days of crime. Little Macky got life; Duck got twenty-five years. Gavin, pale and delicate and inoffensive, got off lightest with ten. And Gavin, pale and delicate and inoffensive, would have been eaten alive by the prison toughs if Duck and Little Macky hadn’t decided that brotherhood didn’t stop at the prison gates. Bobby, everyone wondered about, but no one saw; he was in solitary, fighting or contraband, no one seemed to have a straight story.

And Jimmy, the mastermind, the cop killer, he got the chair.

Gavin was in his cell the night Jimmy did his final walk. The other prisoners hooted and cheered for him as he went by, grinning and flashing them all the thumbs-up like he was going to a party, not for a dance with Old Sparky.

As Jimmy crossed by Gavin’s cell, his foot scuffed the floor with a loud squeak. He stumbled, then tripped, right into one of the guards flanking him. They wrestled him back upright, but when all was said and done, Gavin noticed that the metal shield off the guard’s uniform had been turned upside-down.

Jimmy looked back at him and winked.

Gavin sat on his bunk like the floor had just yanked itself out from under him and wondered just how much further it all stretched. Jimmy had obviously meant them to end up in prison, but had Jimmy hired him specifically? Had Carl’s death been…? Had…had…? Gavin’s head felt like it was going to float away with too many questions for a boss who was never going to answer again. He panted around the lump of raw grief and sour fear in his throat.

Right at midnight, when Jimmy was scheduled to be snuffed, all the lights in the prison went out. A familiar loud clank echoed down the halls, all the locks just disengaging. Gavin pushed cautiously at his cell door; it slid open with no more resistance than just its weight. Whatever else might be going on, he had to assume this was all part of the big design, though he wished the scheming bastard had told him what to do next. Too many questions, too complicated, and adrenalin pounded in his veins like a hammer. “Duck? Little Macky?” He didn’t step outside his cell, not yet, not sure where he’d get swept next.

Little Macky pushed his own cell door open, swearing all the while. “I don’t know about you, Gavin, but I’m going to run like hell. Boss bought us this shot, I’d bet anything.”

More prisoners streamed out of their cells. Duck emerged from the door two down from Gavin’s. “Guards are gonna be on us any minute. Good luck, boys. Nice working with you both — ”

“No, wait!” Gavin lunged out into the hall. Maybe Jimmy had told him what to do after all — what was the one thing he’d been told to remember, before the last job? All that matters is you stick together. Even if it’s so dark you can’t see your own pecker to piss. Well, maybe he was being too literal, but it was awful dark right now even if he wasn’t about to pop the fly of his prison-issue jumpsuit and check just what was visible in the shadows.

He had to hope two toughs would feel the same and still want to haul his dead weight; unless there was a safe between them and freedom, he was worthless. “We stick together. We have to. The boss would’ve — did want that.”

“Huh. He always said that kind of stuff to me too. Said the worst mistake he ever made was not sticking with Bobby. And I never did much like every man for himself,” Little Macky said, chewing an imaginary cigar. “That’s why I joined a gang.”

“Yeah. Yeah, he always did right by us.” Duck nodded slowly. “Come on then, Gavin. We got you then, we still got you now.”

Those words hit Gavin in the chest like a bullet crossed with I love you.

In a tight little knot, they trotted down the narrow, cell-lined halls, each footstep a loud, metallic clunk. Duck bulled other prisoners out of their way like a wrestler; Little Macky brought up the rear, his hand firmly on Gavin’s shoulder and pushing, pushing, pushing.

Someone dodged out of a little side hall with a clatter, barreling right into Gavin; for perhaps the first time in his life, he let out an embarrassing, high-pitched squeak of fear, clapping his hands over his mouth.

The man grabbed his arm. In the dim light and confusion, the line of his forehead and cheek was still familiar enough, one he’d admired cautiously but often.

“Jimmy? I thought — ”

“Bobby!” Suddenly Duck was pounding him on the shoulder, Little Macky exclaiming and trying to shake his hand.

Bobby grinned. He let go of Gavin, even straightened the collar on his drab prison jumpsuit. “Guilty as charged. Where’s Jimmy? I’ve got a plan.”

“He took the walk, then the power went out,” Duck said.

Bobby’s face went dark. “Jimmy…no. Say it ain’t so.”

Little Macky cut in, “Boys, I’d love to stand around and discuss both the tragedy and comedy of our situation, but this mess ain’t gonna last forever.”

“He said he was working on a way to spring you,” Gavin added quietly. “I’m guessing this is it.”

Bobby didn’t look happy, but he nodded all the same. “Then we better run for it, huh. Well, I still got a plan. Follow me.”

Gavin didn’t need to be told twice. Now with Bobby in the lead, they changed course and headed for the laundry room. After months in the laundry truck — hadn’t Jimmy picked that as their escape vehicle? — it felt like going home. The prison spun out into a riot around them, the kind that would have made Jimmy proud, the kind that made it easy for four men to slip out of the prison via the tunnel that Bobby had been working on since the day he got into prison and had almost finished before he got put into solitary.

They stuck together and didn’t stop running until they had their money stashes, until somewhere between Iowa and Texas Gavin and Bobby had fallen for each other like a ton of bricks, until they were all safe on a beach near Cancun.

* * *

Little Macky dropped by to visit regular as clockwork, driving from Mexico City in a car that would’ve looked more at home on a race track, to talk about fishing or the good old times while they all sat on the breezy porch with a cold beer in hand. Sometimes Duck came with him, with a fresh batch of pictures of his son and daughter to show around. Both of them knew damn well it was just Bobby and Gavin living the dream together; all it warranted was the occasional crack about the looks of the local girls and a few sly winks. Fuck expectations, fuck reputation. The important part, after all, was that they stuck together.

And it was Jimmy’s plan Gavin thought about as he handed Little Macky and Duck a fresh beer each and leaned against the railing of his white-washed porch. The cool breeze off the sea tugged at the hem of his Hawaiian shirt — the ugliest, loudest print Bobby had been able to find, though Gavin still insisted on keeping his top button done up — as he picked his own bottle back up. “You ever wonder how far it goes?” he asked, smoothing his thumb over the cool beads of condensation on the brown glass.

“How far what goes?” Little Macky looked up from the fresh pile of photos Duck had just dropped in his lap.

“Jimmy’s plan.”

Duck shrugged. “He got us out of prison and living the good life. How far does it need to go?”

Gavin swirled beer into a little whirlpool. “I still see him, all the time, out here. Even when we were escaping. Remember when that cop’s car got hit by the donut truck, just when he was going to stop us?”

“Yeah. Jimmy would’ve pissed himself laughing.” Little Macky grinned.

“Or when that seagull barfed on your suit,” Gavin pointed his bottle at Duck. “So you met Maria at the laundromat.”

Like Jimmy had got him put in prison, so he could meet Bobby, though he’d never mentioned that notion to the man himself. It felt cruel, considering how tore-up Bobby still was about Jimmy’s death sometimes.

Bobby, stretched out in a chair, fedora tilted down over his forehead. “I never thought my little brother was such a romantic,” he drawled.

“Now you’re just getting silly,” Little Macky said. “Jimmy was good, but he didn’t control the seagulls. He was a crook, not God. No offense, Bobby.”

“None taken. I don’t want to be God’s big brother. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

But that was the problem. Gavin now saw Jimmy in every ridiculous coincidence that he’d used to think of as just the vagaries of life, wondered how much of this he’d planned. Because he’d learned that it wasn’t about controlling seagulls, but nudging the right pebble to cause an avalanche that ended, on a particular day, with a seagull eating a bad fish.

Bobby flicked the brim of his hat back and rose to his feet, grinning like his younger brother — though markedly less unhinged. He raised his beer in a toast, his voice going a little thick as he spoke, “To Jimmy, boys. He made even his apologies the best goddamn circus sideshow the world has ever seen. He’s not with us, but you know he sure as hell wishes he was.”

“To Jimmy.”

Bobby knocked back his beer, cleared his throat. “I forgive you, Jimmy. I always did. And I hope you know it, you asshole. Wherever you are.” He raised his beer again.

Or maybe it wasn’t a problem, Gavin thought as he raised his own beer. There was God, and there was Jimmy, and he had a feeling Jimmy cared about him in a much more personal way than God ever had — and wanted him to be happy. From where he stood on the little porch surrounded by his loved ones and the sound of the surf, Gavin felt Jimmy still with them from his vantage in the untouchable past, saw him smiling that broad, white grin of his as he watched the dominoes fall right where he’d played them, and knew he’d watched Bobby accept his apology.

Knew he’d seen, too, Gavin raising his bottle again and mouthing, “Thank you, Jimmy, for everything. You can stop now.”

Rachael Acks is a writer, geologist, and dapper AF. They’ve written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Rachael lives in Denver with their two furry little bastards, where they twirl their mustache, watch movies, and bike. For more information, see www.rachaelacks.com.