Too-Tiny Tino kept his eyelids pressed together, shielding himself against the bright flashlight inches from his face. Now sitting in a folding chair with hands and feet tied, he’d been interrogated for the last three hours by Salazar and his lieutenants, and Tino had been slowly cracking, giving up more and more information about his peeps, the Hightown Boyz.

The light withdrew and Tino eased his eyes open in time to see Salazar lean forward.  “Where’s your hangout?” The gang leader’s hot breath reeked of garlic.

“I told you, I don’t know.”

Salazar tapped on Tino’s forehead with the head of a ball peen hammer. Not nearly as hard as when he’d taken a few whacks at Tino’s kneecap twenty minutes earlier. Or had that been two hours ago?

“I thought we’d established the rules here. I ask, you answer.” A couple of Salazar’s gangstas snickered in the background. “Do I need to get out the pruning shears again?”

Tino had been trimmed down to eight fingers; lucky for him, pinkies weren’t essential. Yet he hadn’t given Salazar the bit of information he really wanted: the location of the Boyz home base. They’d need to do more damage before he rolled over. The info had to be earned.

“Whatever you need to do. But I don’t know where they’re at, not now anyway. We move around, you know?” Tino spit out some blood and a few drops found Salazar’s face.

Salazar swung the hammer in a vicious arc, smashing Tino’s right elbow. Tino gasped, and the room shimmied before him like heat rising from the asphalt, but he didn’t pass out. This time. A few moments later, the world regained its focus and he was able to squeeze out an answer. “Okay. Okay. They’re on the west side of Henniford Avenue. Past the 7-Eleven.”

“Not so tough, now, huh?” Salazar laughed. “We’re making progress. But we’re not there yet, are we? I need to know exactly where they are. Like an address, bro.” He swung the hammer again, finding the exact same spot on Tino’s elbow. This time, the stars in Tino’s eyes twinkled a little brighter than before. And lasted longer.

Tino sucked in a few quick breaths. He’d lived hard during his nineteen years, enduring tough times, often just scraping to get by. He’d been overlooked by his teachers, his uncles, his neighbors. Rich and poor, young and old, no one ever paid much attention to the puny kid with the spindly arms and pronounced limp.

He’d watched more friends die than he could count. Of course, sometimes you had to take one for the team.

Salazar patted him on his cheek. “Still there, big man? Or have you checked out for good?”

Tino grunted. He’d been prepared to die–expecting to die, really–since he joined the Boyz when he was fourteen, after he’d capped a guy to prove he belonged.

“Okay. Enough bullshit.” Salazar tossed the hammer aside, pulled out a gun and held it flush against Tino’s forehead. “Last chance. Give it up or you’ll know about dying firsthand. Or should I say firsthead?”

Salazar’s buddies snorted while Tino’s insignificant existence flashed before his eyes. One last chance to give his life meaning. He’d held off Salazar long enough; it was his time to shine. His Boyz would have their ambush set by now, ready to wreck Salazar and his gang. All Tino needed to do was give up their location and let his homies exact revenge.

He exhaled dramatically, one last bit of acting before his final curtain call. “Okay, okay. They’re in the basement of the old Terrace Apartments, in a room next to the laundry machines. The back door sticks, but it ain’t always locked.”

“Thanks, amigo. I knew we could count on you.”

A smug smile grew on Salazar’s face and Tino swelled with pride. The asshole didn’t suspect a thing, making victory that much sweeter. Tino wished he’d be around to celebrate with his posse, but that wouldn’t happen. Not in this life.

As Salazar’s finger tightened on the trigger, Tino closed his eyes again, the irrelevant runt, finally at peace, and braced for the blaze of hell’s inferno.

Alan Orloff’s debut novel, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was an Agatha Award finalist. His seventh novel, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, was a winner in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. His short fiction has appeared/will appear in Needle, SHOTGUN HONEY PRESENTS: LOCKED AND LOADED, JEWISH NOIR, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Copyright © 2016 Alan Orloff. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. 

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