"I got a deal for you.” Parnell’s grin was wide and bright as the blade he angled at Ginny. “You want to see your shorty again, right?”
Ginny knew the answer. It wailed in her from the throat of every raw nerve. The basement held its dank breath as if it knew the answer too. Around the brittle fulcrum of Ginny’s kneeling body, the tattooed crowd in the tenement basement hovered in a dark constellation.
“Yes. More than anything.” Ginny’s whisper left the limitless cold inside her and rose to the lean and grinning man at the center of that constellation’s gravity.
“Then I’ll cut you a fair deal.” Parnell’s hands made a fast trade of the cleaver. The glint shone in his teeth and Buddy Holly glasses. “You took from me, didn’t you, Ginny?”
“Yes.” The admission felt heavy for such a hollow sound.
“You went and took a whole brick of flake.”
Parnell kicked at Ginny, his boot fluttering the faded edge of her sundress.
“Yes. Yes, I did.”
“There’s no way you can pay for that in paper.” Parnell leaned in. His gang clustered closer. “That’s why I took your boy.”
The mention of D’Andre put a whine back in Ginny’s throat. She didn’t have the pride left to choke it down.
“So you pay in blood to get him back.” Parnell’s cleaver tapped the card table next to him. “Simple as that.”
“Alright.” Ginny said. It carved the cold in her deeper to say it, but it had to be said.
“Get your hand up on the table, Ginny.”
"Please nothing, ho. We past please. Get your hand up there.”
Ginny took a breath and began to unplug the thinking parts of herself. She turned off the dread, the speculation on what was to come, the animal need to try and run. Her hand pulsed on the table, a black starfish against the formica seafoam of its surface.
She was alright, she told herself. She was alright because she was doing this for D’Andre. She would do anything for him—anything to make this right.
As soon as Parnell’s left hand gripped her wrist, everything right vanished in a pale flare of fear. Ginny wailed the one question she knew she shouldn’t.
“What are you going to do, Parnell?”
“You get your boy,” Parnell squeezed his skinny grip into a band of iron. “I get your hand.”
Ginny only tugged four times before she could settle again. She couldn’t stifle her wailing.
“No, Parn. Please, no.”
“What’d I say about please?”
“No...” Ginny showed the flood of tears, the agony that thrashed her features, to those glinting glasses. Parnell just grinned wider.
“That mean the deal’s off?”
“If it does,” Parnell waved his cleaver at the blond pusher who stood like a thread lost from a gold garment. “I’ll tell Lex here to do your boy right now. He’ll give him the ride of his young life ‘fore he does, too.”
The fear in Ginny turned to a shard of ice bigger than her entire body. She stopped tugging. Even the tears froze, bulged, behind her eyes.
For a moment, the only movement was Lex slouching in disappointment. The burnt half of the blonde’s face sank into a scowl. Then the basement caught its breath again. It sweltered as one with New Orleans, and Ginny could feel the entire city beating, bestial and hungry, in that swelter.
Somewhere, she felt D’Andre waiting for her.
Then she felt a shiver as the cleaver came down. There was no pain. There was just the shudder of impact and a sickening tremble echoing through the table. Ginny had half a moment to wonder if Parnell had just been bluffing.
Then the pain shot up her arm, shot through her chest in a splintered post, and tore her brain from its base. Blood bloomed huge on the formica. The seafoam of the table was smothered in sticky red and the stench of pennies blew everywhere, sweet and iron.
The table jumped again. It jumped again, Parnell bringing the cleaver down twice more to section the severed hand into two chunks of bone and orphaned fingers.
Ginny heard nothing. The gangsters might have been laughing, might have been sharing a shocked silence. She might have been screaming. But the sound of nothing, wide to swallow her and fast approaching, ate all other sound. She only heard when Parnell finally spoke.
“Bring the little fucker in.”
Time had become a matter of heartbeats to Ginny—heartbeats pushing the burn of blood out from the stump of her hand. Her cheeks burned as well, seething with sympathetic terror at the thought of D’Andre seeing her like this. Sickening as it was, the feeling was kept under a cool mask of relief that she would see him at all.
Seven beats later, D’Andre bounded toward her the instant Lex brought him into the basement.
“Mama! Mama!” Nine beats, and as D’Andre cried out and wrapped his arms about Ginny’s neck, she could breathe again. She inhaled and everything smelled like him.
Eleven beats. The sugary stink of the pennies—of her blood—assaulted her.
“Please, Parnell.” Ginny’s voice was a ghost to her. She sounded fit for nothing more than haunting. It made her cling to D’Andre tighter as the boy bound her with sobs.
“Please.” Thirteen beats. “I’m going to die.”
“Your point being?”
“Please. Bandage my…arm.”
Parnell spun the cleaver in one hand. Fourteen beats; his glasses were lone and angry stars in hollow blackness closing in fast around Ginny’s vision. Fifteen, and his smile strained wider.
“Shit, bitch. A bandage is asking something else. But I’ll cut you a deal.” His reply came clean as an edge. “It’ll just cost you a hand.”
Matthew C. Funk is a professional marketing copywriter and social media
consultant, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that
illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing
MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Flash Fiction
Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of
Noir; Pulp Metal Magazine; Spinetingler Magazine; Six Sentences and his Web