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  • Rolf Semprebon

"Deadlocked", Part 2

Axton takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly. Creed, observing him and the woman at the same time, does the same. Creed nods to him and he nods back. Muscles tense, ready for action. 

“No!”

A whoosh of movement, and pain slams into Axton’s hand. The knife flies from his grasp and clatters to the floor a dozen feet away. Axton spins to confront his attacker. Dillon stares back, face racked with tension, about to raise the conduit pipe again. Axton grabs the other end of the pipe as his mind tries to grasp what happened.

“What the fuck, Dillon.”

“I won’t let you,” Dillon snarls.

“Are you...?” Axton doesn’t recognize the man in front of him. “How could you? After all I've done for you, all we’ve been through.”

“I won’t let you hurt her.”

“Dillon?” the woman calls out.

The betrayal stuns Axton. He stares at his friend in horror. Dillon jerks at the pipe, but Axton wrenches it away from Dillon. The woman calling out Dillon’s name intensifies the betrayal, the anger that flares up in Axton.

Axton cocks back the pipe, ready to swing it at Dillon.

“You back away. I don’t want to hurt you, Dillon.”

“Then don’t hurt her.”

“Are you defying me?”

“I will not let you hurt her,” Dillon utters through gritted teeth. He has his fists in front of him in a boxer’s stance.

“I ought to cudgel your brains out with this pipe. Please, Dillon. Turn and walk away. You are out of your league, boy.”

“No!”

“You think you’re a man? Fuck it, Dillon. You want a fight.” Axton tosses the pipe across the room, where it clatters and clangs, loud and echo-y. He pulls off his overcoat and tosses it to the ground. “You know you’re no match for me.”

“Let’s have at it,” Dillon replies, as he whips off his own overcoat, and puts his dukes back up.

“I treated you like a brother. I protected you. And you throw it away on that tramp.” Axton spat his words as he and Dillon began the dance with fists ready to strike. Fist to fist, fists smacking at the enemy’s face and body, the most primal contest to see who is the better man.

Axton should have seen it earlier, when they met up. Dillon’s reluctance to go into details when he and Brand asked Dillon why he’d been absent. Brand needling Dillon about women, and Dillon sullen and recalcitrant. When they went to talk to Creed, Dillon had sat back and added nothing to the conversation. Dillon had planned this betrayal, head twisted up by the woman’s lies, Axton surmises. She is using him to destroy Creed. Dillon was one of few Axton thought he could trust. Axton hates the woman even more, and that hate flowed into his arms and legs as he faces Dillon. He hates Dillon too, for being so weak and gullible.

But he will teach Dillon a lesson, not the one he intended. Dillon is no fighter. Stupid to even attempt a fistfight with Axton. Why would he even try? Axton smiles, knowing it will be no contest.

What was he thinking? Dillon knows he’s no match for Axton as he faces him. He didn’t want it to come to this, and yet in the back of his mind, he knew there would inevitably be a showdown. He tried to avoid it. Headed toward the theater earlier, he cursed himself that Axton arrived first. As Dillon approached, he ran the conversation in his head, to convince Axton they should not get involved, let Creed deal with his own problems.

When he reached Axton, his courage wavered, and the words refused to come out of his mouth. 

Dillon was livid that Axton brushed him off. Nothing he said would stop Axton, and he couldn’t walk away and desert Eden. Now, he faces Axton at fisticuffs, and he thinks, even if it came to this, maybe he can win, simply because he has fairness on his side. In movies, the underdog overcomes at the crucial moment at the climax. All he needs is one good swing at Axton’s smug mug. One knock-out blow.

Axton leers at him behind a pair of steady fists. Dillon lunges with a quick right-left combo that Axton easily deflects. Axton swings back, so fast Dillon barely dodges the first one and the second hits him on the side of the chest. He reels back as Axton advances with right and left hooks.

Dillon glances over at Eden, who still has the revolver on Creed, while Creed hovers over the other gun, inches from his reaching hand. Creed glares back at him for a moment before fixing his eyes back on Eden.

“What the fuck is going on?” Creed snarls.

“I think we found the rat who was fucking your girl behind your back,” Axton boasts, and feints with a fist.

“Dillon? Fuck!” Creed mutters loudly. “Never trusted the little punk.”

“What did she tell you, Dillon?” Axton asks.

“She told me enough,” Dillon replies, trying to sound tough but his voice quavering. “About Creed. About you.”

 “Lies! She’s using you. To turn you against us.”

“Not true, Dillon,” Eden calls out. “Don’t believe them.”

“What did she tell you, Dillon?” Axton asks again.

Dillon looks at him with hatred. One good smack to the head to bring Axton down. Dillon’s hands shake as he skips around on his feet. Axton rolls his fists slowly, bringing them in and out. Axton  looks over at Creed, his mouth beginning to open. Dillon strikes with a left jab, throwing it as hard as 

he can. As his hand brushes past Axton’s jaw, a fist comes in too fast for Dillon to dodge. Sparks explode in front of his eyes at impact, followed by black. He jolts awake as he hits the floor.

He begins to sit, shaking consciousness back into his painful head. Axton leaps on top of him before he can sit upright. Axton has his hands around Dillon’s neck, pushes him back on the floor. Fear grips Dillon as he struggles to pull free.

“You drop the gun, girl, or your friend gets strangled,” Axton yells out hoarsely.

“You let him go or I plug Creed,” she snaps back.

“You try, and I make sure you die too,” Creed replies.

“You shoot Creed and I’ll put you on the ground before you get off another shot,” Axton gloats. “No way out of this, girl. Put the gun down and we go easy on you.”

“Do what he says, Eden,” Creed says. “Drop the gun. Or someone gets hurt.”

“Like I believe your bullshit?” she replies. “Like I can trust you and that asshole?”

#

She can’t bear the thought of Dillon being strangled, and yet if she lets down her guard, Creed will grab the other gun. Every time she darts her eyes at the two men on the ground, Creed’s fingers inch closer.

Desperation and despair sink into her, like she’s falling down inside herself even as she’s aware she’s still standing, still holding the gun. She feels as if she will faint or simply drop the gun, which grows heavier in her outstretched hands. Why does it have to end this way? Fear buzzes down her arms, to make them unsteady, the gun moving from one side to another, and the more she notices it, the worse it gets. Why did it have to end this way?

Her happiness the last few weeks was too good to be true. Those days she spent with Dillon, the way he made her feel. Even that day she met him at the Hellfire Tavern where they all hung out. She had come into town, and she was scared of being by herself. A silly fear, and she had chatted with 

Dillon, they shared a like for movies and theater. But she ended up going with Creed. Creed was older than Dillon, more in control of his life, and played the piano, plinking out simple tunes on the badly tuned upright in a back room of the Hellfire. When she saw Dillon at the table with Brand and Axton, laughing at a joke Axton was telling, she wrote him off. She could see that Axton was a narcissistic thug, and Dillon one of his acolytes.

After that first day, she never forgot Dillon, and he never forgot her. When they ran into each other a few weeks ago and started talking. She’d already reconsidering her options, ready to leave Creed and blow town. The city was dirty with coal, but the mines were almost played out, so the city was dying. She had enough of Creed’s mediocre sex and his jealous accusations whenever she went outside. And then he’d defend Axton when Axton made crude gestures towards her.

But she didn’t know if she could trust Dillon. Even when he talked excitedly about leaving with her, seeking out some new place, she didn’t know if he was being honest, honest with her but even more, being honest with himself.

“What if you have regrets, once we get there?” she whispered to him, as they snuggled together in the back of a motion picture theater, waiting for the feature to begin.

“Regrets? Why would I have regrets if I’m with you?” He kisses her for emphasis.

“You’d no longer be around your friends. You’ve known some of them since childhood.”

“I can come back and visit them.”

“They might be upset with you. Some of them will be with me.”

“We’ll make new friends.”

“You’d really run away with me?”

“Sure,” he said. “Where you want to go?”

“I don’t know. Anywhere is better tan here. This place is dying.”

“I’ll go anywhere with you.”

She wasn’t sure if she believed him. She didn’t think he had the nerve to stand up to Axton, but he proved her wrong on that count. They have train tickets to the capital for the next day, where he knows where to sell the papers, and they’d have money to go somewhere far away. Not that it did any good. All those dreams are gone; Axton has downed him in a fight, and now has him pinned to the ground, strangling the life out of him.

“It’s over, baby.” Creed says. “Drop the gun and we go easy on you.”

“We? Like I trust that bastard over there!”

“You lost, Eden. There’s nothing to do but accept defeat. And with lover-boy gone, you can come back to me.”

“Never!” she hisses.

His face grows hard as he glares at her. “If that’s the way it’s going to be. I thought I loved you but…” She glances down at his hand, quivering above the gun, as if itching to grab it. She has never seen so much hate in his face, it makes his skin boil red. She watches him move his hand on top of the gun as he continues to face her.

#

Doom washes over Dillon as he lies on the floor. The hands tight on his throat, and he can’t do anything to stop it. The world starts to get blurry.

“I hope it was worth it,” Axton hisses above him. “Throw away your best friends for that cheap tramp. You stupid little punk.”

He can’t reply. He can’t tell Axton how for a long time he resented him. He no longer wanted to be Axton’s stooge. Even Eden questioned him on this.

“Do you like me?” she asked that morning, as they lay together on the mattress on the floor of his room. “Or are you using me as a wedge to get away from them?”

“I love you, Eden. How can you question that?”

“But this guy Axton. You grew up with him.”

“Because he had more money than me or Brand, I thought he was somebody. I don’t think that now.”

“I think he’s trying to get Creed to kill me. I’m scared, Dillon.”

“Tomorrow we take the train out of here. Leave this all behind.”

“Until then?”

“I’ll protect you. Maybe I’ll talk to Axton. This is between you and Creed.”

“I hate that guy. He’s worse than Creed.”

“Axton is?”

“Yes. He was at our place. Creed goes down to the basement to fix more drinks, and you know what that pig did? He told me to pull up my top so he could see my...” She shudders.

“Did you tell Creed?”

“Yeah. Soon as he returned with the drinks.”

“What did he say?”

“He just laughed. They both laughed at me. He said it was nothing, that Axton was playing around. Like I need that bullshit. That’s when I knew I had to leave the bastard. Him and his fucking friends. Except you.”

“I only know Creed from Axton. And I’m sick of Axton. Like I told you.”

“I don’t know how this will end,” she said.

“Like I said. Maybe I can talk to Axton. Convince him not to get involved. And I’ll lend you my gun, to defend yourself.”

“You would do that?” she asked.

“Sure,” he replied.

“You’re sweet, Dillon.” She kissed him. “Why do you hang around these people?”

“We grew up together. Me, Axton, and Brand. And Axton’s dad had money. Brand and me: we thought the world of Axton when we were small. I didn’t know better. He’s ruthless. A thug.”

They continued to lie in each other’s arms. Outside the window a crow cawed, and another further away replied.

“When we make love,” she said, “I forget all this. I forget how scared I am.”

Those words echo in his head. They hurt when he thinks he might never make love to her again. He opens his eyes to see Axton above him, a savage smile on Axton’s face. Axton and the room begin to waver as Dillon’s mind shuts down from lack of oxygen. The room swims below him and he feels himself float up from his body. Axton with his hands tight around the throat of a man on the ground. Eden, frozen in place, her panic thundering through her torso and limbs, her finger hesitating on the trigger, unable to shoot the gun trained at Creed’s head.

Creed in a crouch, his fingers now graze the grip of the other weapon and inch closer to the trigger guard. His own fear clamped down in his tough exterior as he glared at her with hate, waiting for the right moment. The moment she turns from Creed, spins to aim at Axton to stop him from strangling Dillon. Or the moment she simply looks over, lets her guard down. Creed thinks he can shoot her before she kills Axton, and if not, at least he can kill her before she kills him.

Axton, eight feet away from her, watching her closely as he pushes his fingers into Dillon’s throat, watching her fear build, waiting for her move, ready to leap up if she shoots Creed, and pounce on her before she cocks the gun and fires again.

Her finger trembles on the trigger. Creed feels the gun beneath his fingers, knows exactly where it is and that he can pick it up and fire in less than half a second. Axton prepares to take action, knowing the deadlock is about to end.

Dillon sees all this in his head as he lies helplessly on the floor.

#

Eden bites her lip as she clutches the gun. Time stops, every second slowed to an agonized crawl. Creed stares into her eyes, waiting for the moment. His lips tighten in a grim smile. She stares back at him, trying not to lose focus. The moment she loses focus, looks away, he will grab the gun.

Her fear begins to numb her into a state of hopelessness. Dillon on the ground being strangled. And behind Creed, the upright piano with its lid propped open. If she’d entered the room any later, he would have found the papers, tucked against the strings in the bowels of the upright. It was a stupid place to hide them, she thinks now. She should have avoided this theater, because it was only a matter of time he’d figure it out.

The dream once so close, now slips further and further away. The plans Dillon and she had, of fleeing the city, finding a new life. Dillon on the floor, strangled by Axton. If she turns and aims and shoots at Axton, Creed will grab the other gun and shoot her. There’s no other way. Then again, why would she want to live if Dillon is dead and she didn’t stop it. At least she can take Axton down, or can she? Can she aim and fire before Creed shoots her. Because she can see in his eyes, that Creed will do exactly that. His face is cold now, no longer seeing her as a person, but an obstacle.

Each second of indecision only makes things worse.

Her finger tightens on the trigger.

#

A gun fires. The blast reverberates through the empty theater. A body crashes to the ground, a chair topples over, and a heavy piece of metal clatters on a hollow wood floor. The pressure on Dillon’s neck vanishes. He sucks in air as Axton leaps off.

“Hold him, Dillon!” she screams.

Dillon grabs at something above him, Axton’s leg, and he clamps both hands just above the ankle.

“Let go of me!” Axton yells furiously as he yanks hard at his leg. “You’re abetting a murder!” Axton twists half around towards Dillon. The other foot slams into Dillon’s shoulder. Dillon winces in pain but continues to grip. Through bleary eyes he sees the free leg cock backward and swing down fast at him. The pain this time is too much and he lets go.

He hears a gun cocking, the whir and click of the cylinder as another bullet slips into place. Above him Axton spins to face the woman. The gun blasts. What if she misses, Dillon thinks, or merely grazes Axton? There will be no time for her to get another shot off. He stares up at Axton. From the corner of his eye he spots Eden, with the gun pointed toward something above him.

Fuck! He panics as he hears the bullet smack into something, a wet thunk, and then there is no sound at all. Eden is frozen in space, still holding the gun. Axton is still above him, half turned to face the woman. For a moment no one moves, everything is still, and Dillon is unsure what has happened or if he’s simply died and this vision, this last thing is frozen in his mind, as if this is what happens after life expires, the image of that last moment becomes eternity in one’s awareness. He even wonders if in her fear of cocking the gun and firing, she shot him by mistake.

Axton slowly starts to move, and faster, as he topples over. Blood spurts from the side of his head, behind his right eye. The eye dangles half out of the socket. The body smacks loudly next to Dillon. He rolls away from it, and slowly climbs to his feet, shaky and groggy.

Creed lies on the stage, his body flung over the toppled chair, the gun next to his hand, a bullet in the middle of his forehead leaking blood.

“Fuck!” Eden sobs. She begins to take deep breaths. “You okay, Dillon?”

“I think so. You?”

“I don’t know. I can’t believe I did that.”

“You saved both our lives.”

“I’m fucked. When the police get here...”

“Police don’t need to know.”

“Did you hear that?”

He’s about to reply but she hushes him.

 A man yells in the distance. “Axton! Dillon!”

“Fuck!” he says. “That’s Brand. I forgot about him.”

“This is what he wanted. If he couldn’t kill me, he’d send me to prison for murder.”

“No.” He wraps his arms around her. “Listen, Eden. We have to be strong.”

“How can we? I just committed double homicide and you can barely walk and that guy will be here in the next minute.”

“No,” he says. He glances down at Axton’s corpse. “Give me that gun.” He grabs the gun from her and kneels down to push it in Axton’s fingers. “Make it look like they shot each other at the same time.”

“That won’t work. Both bullets from the same gun.”

“You have a better idea?”

She shakes her head.

“Now get over there, behind that piano on the stage. Keep out of sight. Let me deal with Brand.”

#

Brand thinks he hears a shot as he reaches the intersection. He stops and listens. The howl of the wind, and a dog barking in the distance. He puts his hand on the handgun in his trench coat pocket. A moment later he hears another shot, from the abandoned theater.

He pulls out the gun and walks slowly towards the theater. It’s probably nothing. He knows he’s late and the others are inside. He reaches the door. “Hello!” he yells. “Axton! Dillon!” He waits for an answer, but can’t hear a thing. “Where is everyone?” he yells.

He steps inside. The lobby is dark and it takes a minute for his eyes to adjust to the light. He walks slowly towards the main doors to the theater, with his gun in front of him. He can see light flickering inside, but he can’t hear any sounds. He steps through the doorway. At the other end of the room, a man faces him.

“Brand? Is that you?”

“Dillon!” Brand pockets the firearm and starts down the sloping floor.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Got held up.” Brand notices the body on the stage and another on the floor near Dillon. A couple more steps he recognizes both dead men, Creed and Axton.

“What the..?”

“They shot each other,” Dillon says.

“I thought that only happened in movies.” Both Axton and Creed have guns in their hands. Drilled each other in the head at the same time. Brand stares in wonder. He realizes one of the corpses is Axton and he starts to tear up. “I can’t believe he’s dead. What the fuck happened?”

“Axton was the one who was cheating with Creed’s girl,” Dillon says.

“Axton? No shit. Didn’t think he’d do that. Maybe joke about it.”

“Creed found out. And they tried to kill each other.”

“Tried. They succeeded. You called the medics?”

“Not much an EMT can do at this point.”

Brand notices Dillon’s limp and his bruised face. “You look like you could use an EMT.”

“It’s nothing.” Dillon looks away.

“Who bashed you up?” Brand asks. “Creed? Axton?”

“Rather not say.”

Brand stares at him suspiciously. How can Dillon, one of his closest friends, keep a secret from him? “Come on, Dillon. You can tell me.” A thought comes into Brand’s head. “Where is the girl?” He chuckles. That’s why Dillon has clammed up. “It was her, wasn’t it? She beat the shit out of you to escape.”

“You can think what you want, Brand.”

Brand glances over at Axton. It still has not quite hit him in the gut his friend is dead. “We should call someone.”

“I don’t know, Brand. Maybe keep the cops out of it. They ask questions. You were on the Brimini job with Creed and Axton.”

“You’re right.”

“There’s a small yard in the back. I think we should bury them. For your sake, Brand. And then we can give Axton a proper funeral service, and Creed too, show them how much we respected them.”

Brand nods. “I think you’re right, Dillon. You always had smarts, maybe as much as Axton. Maybe more, since he got in that stupid to mess with Creed’s girl. Will you help me drag them out there?”

“Of course I will, my friend,” Dillon replies with a slight smile.

“We have a long night ahead of us, good buddy.”


THE END




About Rolf Semprebon:

For 15 years Rolf Semprebon (he/him) wrote scripts for a monthly radio theater show, The Ubu Hour, on KBOO Community Radio, and has also published music reviews in several publications. The Oregon Writers Colony awarded him honorable mention in their 2019 Fiction First Chapter Contest. Rolf grew up in New Hampshire, graduated from Oberlin College, and lives in Portland Oregon.


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