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Silence. Silence thick as ice. The long hallway was cold and damp. Some of the lights were off, their bulbs shattered on the cement floor in glistening puddles of water. The rest drew malformed halos against the walls and ceilings.

I checked my gun again, making sure the safety was off. If I was correct, there would be death at the end of the hallway. Mine, perhaps. but most likely another's.

I waited, straining my ear, wondering whether the man would make a fatal mistake.

A door slammed in the distance, down the hall. I waited, listening to the echoes of the slamming fade.

There was something else. Yes, I was certain I could hear footsteps. Hesitant at first, they became quicker, and then they were those of a run. I readied myself, crouched against the wall on the right in a dark spot. I saw the man.

I fired. His head snapped back, and I shot again. I heard his body fall, a metal object escaping his sprawled fingers.

I stayed very still. He made no noise. It was eerie, I always thought, how much a man would scream if you didn't kill him with the first or second shot. But now he was very still, and silence returned.

I picked up my two spent shells and backed away slowly, still crouching.

I climbed the stairs very slowly, then came out in the steet. It was very still, as if the air itself had felt the death.

I put the pistol against my hip, still holding it, and began walking away. I knew the noise of my gunshot would have echoed in the street too. But it was very cold, and the odds were low that anyone would come out to investigate. The police would not come here until morning.

I continued walking down dirty streets, along abandoned warehouses, following the worker's sidewalk.

I walked for a while and eventually arrived at the bar. I entered, ordered a beer even thought the local stuff was worthless. I got a glass mug with a pale brew and thich foam in exchange for a few bills.

I sat at a dark table in the corner and watched the patrons. They were nothing to look at.

I sat there a while, wondering why I had killed that guy. I mean, I knew why I had killed him: of course, the money. But I also wanted to know why I had killed him. Did I need the money that bad?

I thought back about the times I had killed for the pleasure of doing it. Now, it was different, of course. I did it for the money.

A tall man walked into the bar. I knew him. I watched him order a beer. His name was Bruce. Not his real name, of course.

I watched him as he paid for his beer, then looked as he chose a dark table far from the window. He was about to sit down when he locked eyes with me. He stood again, then slowly made his way to my table. I pushed the other chair out with the tip of my boot. He reached out, took the chair, and sat down heavily.

He said nothing, but sipped on his beer once or twice.

I decided for small talk. "Chinese?"

He set down his beer. "Yeah, you?"

"Pakistani." I sipped my beer. A full minute walked by.

"You're staying long?" He asked.

"A couple more weeks, I think."

"And then?"

"Iran, I think."

Bruce sighed. "I just came back from Isfahan. Too many."

I knew, he would not be going back to Isfahan.

"You're going to Tehran?" He asked.


© 2001 Chris Mahan