I know that at twenty-one feet, or less -- when an edged weapon is in play -- a firearm becomes as useless as tits on a hog. I know this because the first one was free. Actually, that aint quite true. The first one cost me a nickle.
In an ass-crack corner of the back table section, you can tell the scrubs form the salty dogs.The scrubs are the ones with missing digits and deep scars. And they're nervous as a catholic whore in a protestant church. The dogs, the wild ones that on occasion howl at the full blood-moon, are identified by the barren, hairless patches on their arms. This is how the ones that know know. This is how the ones that are paid for it test their metal.
Razor sharp. Clean and close and just a little dab will motherfucking do ya. You damn sure don't want a dab of what those cowboys are slingin'. Trust me.
It always starts with the First. The first knife that you ever receive. His was a Barlow. What they call a "nickle knife". Smooth, wood-grain body. Two blades. From the factory -- shiny sides so that you can almost see the malicious intent. Who could know? One blade, from the tang to the point, is 3.0 inches. The other, a specific, ultra-precise, almost a surgeon's scalpel. Almost. Still some rough edges, but, close enough for this kind of work. Close enough to here the Wind. They hardly ever stay that shiny for long. New knives.
It was his father that give him the first one. He was 12. His retirement gift from the Quarry. 30 years, plus two lungs full of dust and a prognosis of 2-3 years left. Without treatment. Nobody never could afford treatment. Not even from the Company doctors. Who weren't really doctors and everyone that knew anything knew that. He heard that song often -- the one that They sing down to the Wet Saw. Where everyone went after their respective 10 hour day. Six days a week. A tar paper shack held together by popcorn fart dreams and dust from their clothes that held in the air tiny, weak helium balloons from the company fair.
Two to three years/so let's drink up the beers/cause the Man in the Office is passin out slips/And if we'd gone farther/we'd have hit Water/and aint no one get dust in his lungs on a ship.
So his daddy had give him that Barlow and then asked for a coin in return. "How much, daddy," he asked. "Not much, boy. Any coin'll do. Ya see, boy - if'n you don't give a coin, you'ns sever the friendship. Metal and blood cost money. Always has, always will. Ain't nuthin for free, boy. You understand?" A long pause. A peaked eyebrow and a scratch of the ragamuffin hair as he stared into his fathers dusty, rough hewn eyes. "I understand, daddy." And you hand over an indian head nickle.
Then, fat Stewart Dailey, the Unionbuster's son, makes fun of your poverty. He says that your daddy's gonna die by Christmas because you're poor. He says that if your daddy had cut out the East Ridge, instead of makin a big stink about it to the EPA, talkin bout erosion and land management and gee-ology (he drew out the "g" long and slow. always) and involvin all them Geeee-ologists and other smart folk. The last straw was when fat Stewart Dailey called his daddy, a scab. Then he said, all them office boys'd take real good care of his mama. He smiled that shit eatin' smile that all them inside fellas had on their faces while they wiped sweat of'n their brow with crisp hankerchiefs.
Then......then, he opened fat Stewart Dailey' from crotch to throat with his Barlow. The warm, khaki path under fat Stewart Dailey's feet turned to moist, unkilned terra-cotta and flooded his shoes. The world went milk white and spun on its needle axis. And then, fat Stewart Dailey was very quiet indeed. 'Bout goddamn time, he thought to himself.
The first one was free. All the ones to follow have a price tag.
It was two days before -- and eight years longer than "two to three" -- Christmas when he called home. His mama answered the phone and there was a strange tremolo in her voice. He thought of 'ol Sam Murphy who used to play the saw on his front porch when the fireflies would come out. That's what his mama's voice sounded like. "Your daddy's dead, son." He felt his front teeth come together through his lip. And then the warm salt. "When?" was all he could say. "Last night. Round 'bout supper time I found him there on the porch. He'd been a whittlin. Think it was a dog, or cat or somthin. He looked kind of whitewashed in his cheeks and he said somethin before he died....." She started to weep. "Yes, mama?" 'Ol Sam's saw, higher pitched and sharp as the edges on cut, polished granite. "He said that you was wrong. He said that no matter what you think now, that first one wasn't free. It cost you mor'n that indian nickle. Said it cost you everything." He bit through his lip again and spit a large crimson stone over the edge of the railing and watched it -- three stories south -- bloom like a rose on the sidewalk.
As he hung up the phone he fingered something in his right-front pants pocket. It was his Barlow. He removed it and looked at it for a long time. He wanted to hate it. He wanted to blame it all on the knife. 'Sheeeeit', he whispered, "that'd e be like blaming the rusty nail for goin through the shoe. Just doin' what it knows to do.'
He walked in the apartment through the floor to ceiling glass walls and they were waiting for him. Three of them. All of them ready for the Jackpot. All of them within twenty-one feet. Silly fuckers might as well be holding kittens, he thought to himself as he one hand opened the Barlow.
The Barlow. The one his daddy had give him.
The one that still had John Dailey's blood on it.
Then he went to work. Like a conductor. Like a surgeon. Like an artist. Like a madman.
He wished to god he was further away than twenty-one feet.
One of these days perhaps.