Friday, 6 August 2010

HEADS OR TAILS by Brian Byrne

TknC welcomes Brian...

Heads or Tails

"Heads or tails?"

The man staring back at me had one eye, a large gash on the left side of his face and was missing part of his right ear. In one hand he held a nickel. He spoke in a burly smoker's voice, but hadn't smoked a cigarette in his life. Not that I could remember, anyway.

"Hank, it's not as easy as that!" My voice wavered, and broke at the end as I looked down at the gun in my shivering right hand.

It sure as hell wasn't easy. Not when I had known this man all my life. Not when we'd grown up together, and come this far. Not after everything had went so right, then so horribly wrong.
Really, we should have expected something to backfire. It never works out like it does in the movies. You never get off scot-free. Not without some bloodshed.

Hank's stare never wavered. He looked at me thoughtfully as though he knew what I was thinking. "Look, buddy. It's gotta be that easy. We don't got long. They're right outside. They're gonna barge in on us in a minute," he said.

That was Hank for you. Mister Matter-O-Fact. Mister Gonna Be All Right. How did I ever meet such a person? I'd asked myself that question a thousand times. Every time, the answer was the same: can't remember. My first memory? A dog biting a piece of Hank's ear off, and me standing opposite him, screaming, helpless. My first kiss? Hank was there, right by my side, egging me on. He wasn't always around, but when he was, I did things I'd never normally do in a million years. In a way I'd began to rely on the man. Me, Mister Scaredy Cat. He'd always led the way.

He'd always taken care of the dirty work. And today had been no different. Mom needed the money. She was going bankrupt. Dad was only gone two years, and already she was losing the house. I was jobless. I couldn't help. Then Hank popped back out of the woodwork. Said he had an idea. Said it was flawless. Easy as pie.

"They're gonna shoot us dead if you don't make your mind up," Hank said, compulsively adjusting the patch over the empty socket where his other eye used to be. "This is it, buddy. This is the end."

Of course, we'd been planning the heist for weeks. Chose the perfect time and everything. Early Wednesday morning. Hank said it'd be impossible to break in at night. Security always slacked off in the daylight, he said.

"Hank, it's not that simple, all right? This isn't heads or tails. It's life or fucking death!"

"-And if you don't choose soon they're gonna choose for us," Hank coughed, and raised a calloused finger over the counters behind them, past the bullet-proof glass, across the mahogany floorboards of the atrium and through the double doors into the street outside.

I looked too. He was right. They were outside. Swarms of them. All around us, waiting to sting us like wasps. Only their sting would be fatal. And the helicopters. Can't forget the helicopters. I could hear their wings whirring away. One or two, I couldn't tell. But I could picture them, hovering outside like great silver humming birds, snipers hanging out the side, rifles pointed squarely at the windows and doors of the New York City National Bank. The bastards even had a megaphone. Come out now and we'll go easy on you, they said. Ha. Yeah right. I went to college. I was no fool. Hell, even Hank had went. I think he only went for me - not that I'd ever tell him. Hank was too much of a man to discuss wussy little things like that.

The hostages stared up at us as though they wanted to look the other way but couldn't. Understandable. They wanted to see who got the last bullet. It's natural. Every human being loves to see a little bloodshed, as long as someone they care about isn't the one shedding it. Human nature.

One of the cops said something through the megaphone again. The calming voice of a man echoed through the doors, into the atrium, past the bullet-proof glass and over our heads with ease. Something about giving us another minute. After that they'd be coming in. Shooting the place up.

"Come on, buddy. Last chance now," Hank hurried me.

How the hell could I decide? I looked down at the shivering gun again. It was pristine. We were saving it for a special occasion. At least now I knew what the occasion was.

"THIRTY SECONDS!" I heard the voice clearly this time. It was no longer calm. It pulsed through the glass and like an alarm it woke me. Thirty seconds? Thirty seconds to decide if I wanted a life of hell or no life at all? Again, Hank read my mind.

"It's either that or spend the rest of your life in a damn prison cell! You want that? You wanna live in hell or die? Heads or tails. One bullet, boy. Two of us. Your gun. You decide."

Hank or me? Maybe we'd both just run out with our hands over our heads. If they didn't shoot us, we'd go to prison together, maybe.


"You gonna give those bastards the upper hand? You gonna let them decide whether you live or die? Buddy..."

Dammit, Hank, get out of my head. But he was right. Hank was always right. We couldn't leave it up to the cops. Not now. Hank had led me down some steep and winding roads, but he'd never led me astray. No, I couldn't blame him for today. It was my fault we'd gotten caught. Not his. I hadn't been fast enough. I'd hesitated. The little bitch behind the counter had managed to hit the silent alarm before I'd shot her. And then the cops had been there in seconds - literally.


"Come on, buddy.”

Yeah. Hank hadn't hesitated. He never hesitated. Probably why he'd lost his eye when that whore had stabbed him with the heel of her shoe. We'd paid her double. You'd have thought she'd have given us a third go around for free. Common courtesy, Hank said.


"Make your mind up already."

And the cut on his face. Hank had told me to grab the coke. Grab the bag of it and get the hell out of that house. But like always, I'd hesitated. I'd thought of the consequences. And Hank had suffered. The dealer had gotten him, not me. Don't think, Hank had said. Just do it.


"Last chance."

He was right. All along, Hank had been right. Hank had been the strong one. All along, he'd tried to help me out.


Hank didn't need someone like me holding him back. Someone as cunning as him would always get another chance. Another shot.


Hank smiled. I smiled back. I lifted the gun to my ear and the hostages screamed out in unison, eyes still glued to the scene. I glanced down at them, then back at Hank. My eyes widened. My mouth opened. I was perplexed. Hank was holding a gun to his ear now, too.

"How did you get that?" I asked.

"How did I get what?" he replied.

I lowered the gun as the front doors shattered and dozens of heavy-booted feet poured into the atrium of the bank. Hank lowered his gun, too. I frowned, and so did Hank. What the hell was he doing? I reached out to snatch the gun from him. I touched his hand, but it didn't feel right. It was flat and hard.

Screams from the hostages to my left. Roars from the police behind me. Gun shots. A door bursting open. A deafening crash. I lifted the gun to my ear, realisation finally racing through me, consuming me, nauseating me. I stared at the man in the mirror and he stared right back at me.

"Tails," we said together, and pulled the trigger as one.

Brian Byrne is a 21 year old aspiring writer from Ireland. While begrudgingly studying for a Computer Science degree he doesn't really want, he spends his free time doing the only thing he really loves doing: writing.


  1. Wind up the tension, why don't you, Brian!

    Very, very good - and I esp. liked the ending!

    Can we have more from you, please?

  2. Excellent. Tense and a denouement I didn't see coming.

  3. Jesus! What a brilliant twist. Came out of nowhere.

  4. I like the twist and how it subtly unraveled at the end. Nice job.