THE LAST BUTT by Michael Bracken

There are only two reasons people walk the Island Bridge, and getting to the other side isn’t either of them. I was the second pedestrian on the bridge that night, and I stopped halfway across to lean against the railing, chain-smoke unfiltered Camels, and flick the still-burning butts into the river far below. Four lanes of traffic sped from each side of the bridge to the other behind me, the nightscape of the bifurcated city spread into the distance before me, and the dark water below presented an ever-moving reflection of everything around me, including the woman beside me.

“Did you really think I’d do it?” the blonde I had followed onto the bridge finally asked.

“Hadn’t really thought about it one way or the other,” I told her between drags. Our reflection in the water below exaggerated the difference in our sizes. I towered over her and carried at least a hundred more pounds, most of it muscle.

The blonde turned to face me. Her angelic face could stop a man’s heart, if he let it. She batted her eyelids and stroked my forearm with her fingertips. “Don’t you care?”

I blew a thin stream of smoke into the night air. “Not paid to care. Never been paid to care.”

“Would you have tried to stop me?”

“Not paid to do that, either.”

“What are you paid to do?”

“Follow you,” I said between drags. “Report back.”

“And if I had jumped?”

“I’d have to tell him.”

“Then what?”

“Then I’d have to find another job.” Her suicide was the not the resolution my employer sought.

The blonde stared hard at me but I concentrated on my smokes. Someday they might kill me, but they had never failed me the way she had failed to honor her wedding vows.

“What if you just told him you’d lost me.”

“He’d expect your body to wash up somewhere downriver. When it didn’t, he’d ask again what happened,” I said. I paused for a deep drag from my Camel before flicking it away and lighting another. “He’s not a man who suffers liars gladly.”

“I–” She had lied to her husband repeatedly about the man she had been seeing, but she had never revealed the man’s name. “What if I tell my husband it was you?”

I had considered that possibility. “He wouldn’t believe you.”

The blonde turned, pressed her hourglass figure against me, and looked up into my eyes. Hers were blue and filmed with dampness that glistened in the reflected light of the city. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and, as she slid one hand down between us, asked huskily, “Why not? I can be quite … persuasive.”

I had never played on the same team as the blonde and my body didn’t respond. That’s why my employer trusted the job to me instead of his other muscle.

By then I had finished my smokes, yet I found myself with one last butt to extinguish.

I grabbed the blonde, lifted her over the rail, and released her.

Michael Bracken, recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement, is author of several books and more than 1,200 short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, Flash Bang Mysteries, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and elsewhere.

Copyright © 2017 Michael Bracken. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.