This short piece originally appeared on Tribe's excellent Flashing in the Gutters site.
Not your fault your first shot missed, not your fault the punk returned fire. Not your fault Reymond's vest didn't cover his paunch or that he stood stock still in the doorway, fumbling with the thumb break on his new duty rig.
Not your fault he got killed.
Punk was Reymond's word. Everyone on the street was a punk to him. Or a kid.
You don't have to comfort the grieving widow. Or put money in the manila envelope they're passing around. You had to press your hands against the ragged wound, so it's not your fault the punk got away. No need to feel like a pariah or have any more of those dreams where your bullets arc tracer-like around a punk who's invulnerable and laughing.
And you don't have to drop a new barrel into your Glock and load it with Silvertips to hunt the bastard down.
But you will.
Next Tuesday you'll sit in your battered hatchback outside the arcade, watching cars roll up to buy gear off a couple of fourteen-year-olds.
You'll wait, and while you wait you'll remember the way Reymond used to piss you off, how on nights like this when the rain was hard and his wife kept calling to see when he'd be home, he used to explain why a kid like you couldn't get a decent woman and how you and your whole generation needed backbones and how, when he started out, there was a code and men lived by it. You'll remember how careless he was and what a joke.
Then you'll see a punk coming out of the arcade and saying something to the dealers. Even through a sheet of rain, he'll look invulnerable and laughing. You'll see a homemade bandage on his arm from where you must have nicked him. And when he heads down the street, arms swaying, oblivious to you and the weather alike, you'll slip into drive and follow.
You'll roll by and you'll press the trigger as he's passing through a cone of light, squeezing off one round then another as he turns. Plumes will burst through the white t-shirt and he'll be shocked, jaw hanging, like you're fate incarnate trying to cheat him yet again. Then it will happen. Under the light you'll see he's not the one, that the bandage is just an armband and the face not the same. Not at all.
Not your fault you'll shoot him anyway, not your fault you won't feel bad. You'll go home to drink beer in the television's glow, and a week later you'll try again. For Reymond. There was a code once, he said, and men lived by it. So will you.