The Wrong ChoicesJonathan Austen / Thrillers & Crime
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Text Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Austen
Published in the United States
by Hearthstone Fairytales
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
THE WRONG CHOICES
by Jonathan Austen
It was not supposed to snow, but the fluffy flakes were falling from the sky, and that gave Jackson hope, because until then a lot had gone wrong on this night. It started with having his friend’s Smith & Wesson .38 revolver pressed against his back.
“You do see the irony in this, right Asher?” Jackson asked in a hoarse voice.
“No talkin’,” Asher snapped.
“I bought that gun for you. It was a gift, and now–”
Asher jabbed the muzzle of his gun against Jackson’s spine. “You goin’ deaf?”
“Naw, man. It’s just, I know I don’t have anything to lose at this point. Someone’s going to die tonight and I sure as hell don’t intend on it being me.”
“Then you’d better stick to the plan and keep your mouth shut.”
Jackson zipped his old leather, black jacket all the way. The snow fell thicker by the minute. He stood ankle deep in it, his socks wet and his shoelaces turned to icicles. Stomping his feet, trying to warm his body, he remembered how his mother had made him wear those awful yellow and black galoshes when he was little. No matter how much he whined or how much the other kids teased him, she wouldn’t get him something cooler looking—are their mothers gonna pay the doctor bills so that you can look cool? she would say.
Earlier that night, Jackson drove around the city in a faded coupe ‘74 Cutlass Supreme with Asher and his right-hand man, Digger. They were out taking care of things Asher usually delegated; collections, enforcements, drug pick-ups, and drop-offs. Jackson had sensed something was up but went with it anyways. Then they rolled into the Chapel Hill district, and Asher stripped Jackson of his weapon and cell phone. With a gun pointed at his back, Asher walked him into the alley where he slipped a knife into his hand. There, he told him, If you want into the gang, you gotta kill the first person that comes by or else you leave in a body bag.
Ninety days ago, Jackson joined Asher’s gang, and now he had passed the mandatory waiting period. The guys had voted him in as a full member. All that now remained was the initiation. Jackson had heard rumors about the different types of initiations. Your standard variety: Theft. Beatdown. Sex, if you were a girl. Even maiming someone with a knife. But tonight’s events weren’t something Jackson had expected. It was extreme, even by Asher’s standards, who was known for being a bit unbalanced. The guys even had a nickname for it: A-bombs.
Murder? Jackson’s head pounded. I didn’t sign up for this shit!
Jackson knew he was trapped. And like most things ordered by Asher, if you didn’t follow through, you would end up in the hospital and became a marked target. And with Asher as a leader, you either learned to live in the shadows, or else you moved. Most guys chose the latter. But this was not most things.
Jackson’s muscles felt tight. He stretched his right arm across his chest, cocked and ready. I could crush his skull with my elbow, he thought. His arm remained loaded for another moment. His fist clenched. Then, a gleam of light caught his eye from across the street. Jackson relaxed his arm, letting it fall to his side, and unclenched his fist.
Asher might be crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. He had positioned Digger across the street, in an alley with a .22 rifle and a scope. It wasn’t the slickest of rifles, and Digger wasn’t the best shot Jackson had ever seen. But based on their time together shooting in the woods, he knew Digger could hit a target a hundred yards out on his worst day. And tonight, Jackson was less than half that distance.
There would be no choice for Jackson tonight. No opportunity to move. There was only the option of committing murder or dying. And he hated ultimatums, especially the ones concerning moral issues. Petty crimes were one thing. He could live with those on his conscience. Committing murder was entirely different.
“How long are we gonna wait?” Jackson asked, looking for a loophole.
“All night if that’s what it takes. That okay with you?”
Jackson gave a wry smile. “Well, if I got a choice–”
“You ain’t. So, shut up.” Asher slapped the back of Jackson’s head with his open hand.
Jackson kept quiet and waited. The Chapel Hill district was known for its high crime rate. Nobody cared about one dead kid.
An empty beer can clunked past Jackson’s feet and rolled to a stop by a lamppost. The wind filled his nostrils with the all-too-familiar stench of garbage. It reminded him of the decaying apartments nearby where his mother had dragged him to as a child so she could get high with her friend. And it was always his father who’d take them home, with his mother passed out in the backseat of their car, on top of his dad’s empty beer cans.
Growing up, Jackson had been pure, like the nearby apartment buildings were when they had first been built. He never saw himself as someone who would join a gang and commit crimes. Other kids did those things. But eventually, his youth decayed in the same way as the apartments, which eventually filled with junkies, whores, and pedophiles. That was the place where he spent too many hours of his childhood watching TV while his mother got high.
Asher nudged the muzzle against Jackson’s back again. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“Just waiting and thinking.”
“Yeah, well don’t overthink things and go makin’ a mistake.”
Mistake. The same label Jackson’s family had applied to him, long before he joined the gang. Mistake. A constant reminder that his family regretted having him. To an outsider, Jackson appeared confident and happy, but inside, his heart ached like mad. He was a mistake that never felt like he belonged anywhere.
Jackson’s older brother, Stevie, had looked out for him as much as his could, often helping him with his homework and protecting him from the neighborhood bullies. But his brother died in a car crash and Jackson’s world unraveled. With no one left on his side, he turned to the other kids.
Jackson’s mother had dealt with Stevie’s death differently, though. She turned to hard drugs in order to numb the pain. He always knew she did some drugs, often catching the scent of marijuana on her clothes. But then he started finding needles and rubber tubes, and the visits to the projects increased. That’s where he first met Asher. The two boys bonded right away as they had both lost an older brother.
“Hey, Asher. How long have we known each other?” he asked. “Wait, don’t tell me. Four, no, five years?”
“I don’t know. What are we, datin’? You lookin’ for an anniversary gift or somethin’?”
Jackson laughed to ease the tension. “No. Just that, we’re family. Brothers. Right? I spent years looking up to you. You looked out for me. So, why the A-bomb tonight? With me.”
“You want in?” Asher shot back. “You gotta earn it like everyone else.”
Jackson had joined Asher’s gang reluctantly. It had taken a lot of persuasion on Asher’s part, but eventually, Jackson caved and agreed with one condition—he wouldn’t be involved in anything drug related. Personal reasons, he stated. Asher didn’t flinch. He agreed.
Jackson snickered, realizing now the irony in his condition to join the gang. He had a deep hatred for drugs and yet, he was addicted, but to a different kind—the need to feel wanted.
“No exceptions, Jacky-boy,” Asher snarled. “I don’t care how popular you are.”
Popular? Jackson had never thought of himself that way. Is this about jealousy? he wondered. Is Asher afraid the other guys look up to me more?
He rubbed his forehead. He hated that nickname, Jacky-boy. When his mother was mad at him, which was often, she called him that. If Asher referred to him as Jacky-boy, then he was definitely pissed.
Asher was known for his quick temper. He’d smack his girlfriend around if he suspected she had even thought about another guy. And he had gotten into fistfights with the police, and even won a few.
Suddenly, a car slid to a stop some thirty feet away.
“Who is it?” Asher asked.
“Can’t tell. Too much snow.”
“Don’t be lyin’ to me. Digger knows what to do if you are.”
Jackson craned his neck around and glared at Asher. “You wanna switch places? I’m telling you, there’s too much snow to see. Now, be quiet.”
A car door slammed shut and a small person stood by the passenger door.
“You’re up, Jacky-boy. Remember–”
“Yeah, yeah. Digger.” Jackson swallowed hard. He reached inside his jacket, gripped his knife, and held his breath.
“Easy, Jacky-boy,” Asher whispered. “Don’t