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Category: Short Stories

First Kill

Sean Riley is a character in my Michael Sykora Novels. This story belongs to Sean.


The first kill was the hardest. His father staring with those dark narrow eyes that had incited fear for so many years. Even as the life seeped out of him, those eyes were full of scorn.

“You killed my mother,” Sean had said.

His father spat a mouthful of blood. A front tooth dangled, barely hanging on. “She was a whore.”

No remorse as death closed in on him.

A lifetime of pain. Hours of revenge. And it came to this. Nothing. Sean felt nothing.

A lot of years had passed since then. Sean McCarthy became Sean Riley. He reinvented himself. Went to college. But the past wouldn’t leave him.

Now he looked at the man across from him. Not his father’s eyes but enough like them to cause his stomach to tighten. Life bled from the man slowly, because that had been the request. Make him suffer.

Dave Billings, the dying man, appeared ordinary to those who knew him. Middle aged, thinning hair, wire-rimmed glasses. Unmarried, quiet, respectful. Billings worked as an accountant, volunteered his time as a soccer coach for young beginners. That’s when it all started to go horribly wrong.

“How many?” Sean asked.

Billings shook his head. “Please…”

“We’re beyond begging. How many?”

“I’ll do anything.”

“That’s the problem, isn’t it? You’ll do anything. No territory too creepy for you to wander into.”


Billings yanked at the restraints. His wrists chafed against the zip ties, the effort futile. Thirty minutes ago, Sean had crept into the house where Billings lived alone. Sean had dragged Billings from his bed and had his wrists and ankles secured before the man had managed to blink the sleep from his eyes.

“How many kids?” Sean asked. “Don’t make me ask you again.”

“You don’t understand.”

Sean stuffed the rag in Billings’ mouth. “You’re right. I don’t.”

Fingers broke easily. One. Two. Three. They hung at odd angles, while Billings screamed against the gag. Sean sighed. He sat on the kitchen chair opposite Billings and waited for the thrashing to stop.

Hit man. Assassin. Hired gun. Those words had all been used to describe him. He was a killer, plain and simple. That didn’t bother him, the killing part, anyway. His father had taught him how to kill and how to detach. He’d seen his first snuff film when he was three.

Billings finally slumped back against the chair. Sean reached forward and pulled the gag from Billings’ mouth. “You’ll answer my questions now. You see, I don’t care how much I have to hurt you to get the answers. Understand?”

Billings nodded. Tears and snot ran down his face. Sean said, “How many?”

“Can I explain? Please?”

The gag filled Billings’ mouth before he could flinch. Another finger snapped. “Next time,” Sean said. “I’ll cut it off.”

He crossed the room and picked up the small backpack he’d brought. Back in the chair, he opened it and gave Billings a glimpse of the contents. Pliers, knives, a small torch. Billings’ eyes bulged.

Sean took the rag from Billings’ mouth, said, “How many?”

“Five.” Billings’ voice trembled. “But it’s not like you think! Let me explain!”

“You molested five boys. Five. Innocent. Children.”

“I didn’t molest them! I just… it was just touching. That’s all!”

Sean stuffed the rag back in Billing’s mouth. When he’d started out in this career, he hadn’t cared about the why. He never asked. He was hired to kill someone, so he did it. He was damn good at killing and even better at not caring. Watching his father murder his mother had done that to him.

Then he’d met Michael Sykora. A client who wanted his fiancée’s murderer found. Tortured. Destroyed. Michael had been looking for justice in a world that rarely gave any. And he wanted to see it happen. That was a request Sean never granted. No one ever watched him work. Nor did he take photos. Killing wasn’t a spectator sport. But something about Michael Sykora had made him say yes.

Sean had found the scum who’d murdered Michael’s fiancé. Then Michael had taken one look at the man and something snapped. Ten minutes later, Roger Dossing’s bloody body lay in a heap on the concrete floor of his garage. Michael had beaten him to death, while Sean looked on.

Turned out, Michael Sykora was damn good at killing, as well. Only he cared. He had to know why. Losing his fiancée to a repeat rapist-turned-murderer changed the person Sykora had been. He got a taste for justice, vigilante justice some would call it, but justice nevertheless. He set out on his own crusade to right the wrongs, rid the world of the bottom-dwelling scum. And somewhere along the way, Sean had joined him.

He turned his attention back to Billings. The man was squirming in his chair. Five children had their worlds turned upside down by this man. Five children whose lives would never be the same.

“Just touching?” Sean said softly. “That’s how you justify what you do when you look in the mirror every day?”

Billings shook his head furiously. Desperate to speak, his muffled pleas got lost in the gag. Sean removed the pliers from his backpack. “Do you know how sensitive that spot beneath your nails is? Have you ever had one tear too far down?”

Billings’ eyes nearly popped from his head. His body shook violently and he toppled over, chair and all. Sean reached down and righted both the chair and Billings. Five minutes and five fingernails later, Billings lay in a heap on the floor. His body convulsed, as tears streamed down his face. His nose drained snot and he fought for breath around the gag.

Sean searched through the kitchen cabinets, found a glass and filled it with cold water. He drank it slowly, watching Billings struggle for air. When he’d finished his water, he carefully washed the glass and put it back. Then he yanked Billings up and sat him back on the chair. He pulled the wet rag from Billing’s mouth and the pedophile gulped at the air.

“That was a fingernail for each child you molested,” Sean said. “We have a problem, though. Your fingernails will grow back. But the kids are damaged forever. You think that’s fair?”

“I’ll give you anything you want,” Billings stammered. “Please. Anything. You want money? I’ve got ten grand saved. You can have it! Please, just stop!”

“Tell me about Bobby Lawrence.”

Billings sucked in a breath. His eyes darted around the room, seeking escape. “Tell you what? Bobby is a good kid. I coached him on this year’s team.”

“Coached him or molested him?”


“Do not lie to me.”

“I touched him! Okay! Is that what you want to hear?”

“How many times?”


“How. Many. Times.”

“I… I don’t know!”

Bobby Lawrence’s father had hired Sean to take care of Billings. How Lawrence knew for sure that Billings had been the one to molest his son was something Sean didn’t know. He didn’t need those kinds of details. He did, however, look into Billings before agreeing to do the job. Last week, he’d broken into Billings’ house while the guy had been at soccer practice with a group of four-year-olds.

He’d emptied Billings’ hard drive onto a small flash and given it to Michael Sykora. His client was now his partner and the guy was a genius with computers.

Sean hated the machines but pedophiles consistently loved them. They hid and encrypted their files, thinking that would somehow save them. Michael took no time in finding the hidden photos. Hundreds of them. Imagines that Sean would never get out of his head.

“You don’t know how many times you molested Bobby Lawrence?” Sean asked.

“I only touched him!”

“And took photos.”

Billings gulped air. “I…”

“Don’t.” Sean glanced at the digital clock over the stove. Almost four a.m. He needed to end this soon, get out before the neighborhood woke up. “I don’t want to hear your excuses, Billings. I don’t think Bobby or his father want to hear them, either. However, Mr. Lawrence would like to know a few things. His main concern is whether you put his son’s naked photos on the Internet.”

“The Internet?”

“Spare me the innocent act. I have no patience for that. You share photos with other twisted men who get off on little boys. We both know that. You post them on a website where you all go to get off. Did you do that with Bobby’s photos?”

Billings slumped, defeated. “No.”

“If you lie to me, it will be much worse than a few missing fingernails.”

“I didn’t!”

“Why not?”

“I… I hadn’t wanted to share him, yet.”

“I see.”

Sean got up, paced across the room. His skin crawled. Being around Billings made him feel dirty and he desperately wanted a shower.

“I love Bobby!” Billings blurted.

Sean groaned. “No. Don’t do that.” He walked back to his chair, sat down. “Mr. Lawrence would also like to know if you made Bobby do anything to you.”

Billings’ Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. Sweat seeped through his t-shirt, dripped down from his scalp.

“I asked you a question,” Sean said. “Don’t make me ask again.”

“He wanted to. I didn’t make him do anything!”

“Bobby wanted to touch you?”

“Yes! He wanted to please me.”

Sean’s stomach lurched. That was it. The things Lawrence needed to know for his own sanity. Sean could erase Billings from the world and end both of their suffering.

He had the knife in his hand. A five-inch blade, brand new, serrated for extra pain. Before Billings saw it coming, Sean buried the blade deep into his flabby gut. Billings sucked in a ragged breath, gasped, begged with his eyes.

Blood seeped from the wound. Sean stuffed the gag in Billings’ mouth, then twisted the handle. The blade shredded organs. Billings whimpered into the gag.

Lawrence had wanted the death to be slow. The man would be happy if this went on for hours. Days, even. But the suffering wouldn’t change what Bobby Lawrence had gone through. Nothing erased that.

Sean sat in his chair and watched the life seep from Billings’ eyes. He flashed back all those years ago to his first kill. His father’s eyes, so much like Billings’. Both scum who preyed on children, shaping the adults they would later become.



My Murderous Muse

One long ago evening, I took a shortcut through a dark alley and stumbled over a dead body. Most of it was hidden on the far side of a filthy dumpster. Only the feet stuck out. The toes of my left foot caught on the edge of the Nike. I lurched forward, flailing my arms about like I was trying to fly. When I regained my balance, I turned to see what I’d tripped on. That’s when I saw the sneaker, and noticed it was attached to a body. 

I’m not in the habit of stumbling over bodies in dark alleys. Outside of funeral parlors and made-up faces in caskets, I’d never seen a dead person. In the shadows that evening, I thought this guy might be drunk and had passed out there. Or perhaps he’d been mugged and was hurt. I didn’t immediately think dead body.

 Until I knelt beside him. 

Half his face was missing. 

Fortunately, the missing half also happened to be the half he was lying on. I saw enough detail to cause the Kahlua sombrero I’d drunk at the bar around the corner to creep up the back of my throat. I turned away and focused on his shoes. Average-sized men’s Nikes. Flecks dotted the white leather. Blood, maybe. Hard to tell without a good source of light. 

Whatever morbid curiosity I felt soon gave way to fear. What was I doing in a dark alley, alone with a dead body? I sprang upright too quickly. The booze and the burst of adrenaline made me lightheaded. I reached for the dumpster to keep myself from falling onto the dead man with the missing face. I quickly realized my night was getting no better. 

My fingers slid through a wet, sticky substance. Blood. Red, gooey, and smeared over the edge of the dumpster. I pulled my hand away, but not before scraping against tiny fragments of something hard. The missing pieces of bone from the man’s face, perhaps? Or pieces of his brain? The fragments clung to my fingers as I pulled my hand away. 

Then I vomited on the average-sized Nikes. 

I was still retching when gravel crunching beneath shoes alerted me to someone’s presence. You’d think I’d be smart enough to run. But, no, I’m ever the optimist. I thought this person approaching would be able to help. He or she could go to the phone booth across the street and call the cops. As I straightened up, a solid steel baseball bat slammed into my cheek. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I was really punched in the face with a fist, but it felt like a steel bat. 

The blow sent me reeling backward. A moment later, I found myself lying on top of the dead man. The person with the steel fist laughed, which I found insulting. I told him so. Obviously, I’m not too bright. He gave me a kick for good measure. 

Lying on a stinky dead body freaked me out. I reached for the man with the steel hands, snatching a handful of his denim pant leg. The bone fragments on my fingers crushed into my skin as I pulled and yanked. He cursed and tried to kick me away. Finally, I managed to get to my knees and I scurried away from the dead guy. 

The man with the steel hands grabbed my arm and yanked me off the ground. For a moment, I was dangling in the air, my feet dancing above the pavement. Then he set me down, and that’s when I noticed the gun. 

I didn’t know anything about guns. This one was black and silver, and pointed at me. That was all I needed to know at the time. 

He was going to kill me. I was sure of it. Only he didn’t. He said he would let me go on one condition. For the rest of my life, I would have to write about murder. He wanted everyone to know what he and people like him did. Most of all, he wanted people to know why. No, not excuses. The truth of it. The madness behind it. 

Of course, I agreed. What choice did I have? 

And, so, here I am. One crazy night murder paid me a visit, and I’ve been telling the story ever since.

Jack and Jill


Dear Jack,

I’m trying to be an understanding sister because you were hurt yesterday, but what the hell were you thinking? I traipsed all the way up that hill, lugging those stupid metal buckets. The path was narrow and steep, and I broke three nails on the way up. My manicure was destroyed!

I know you don’t care about the manicure. You said I wasted my money on the fake nails and polish, anyway. But that manicure cost me a full week’s pay. And babysitting all those miserable brats in the Old Lady’s shoe is not easy! Do you have any idea what it’s like to wipe more snotty noses than you can count? And the diapers! I swear the Old Lady keeps Pampers in business all on her own.

The broken nails weren’t the worst of it, though. Last night, I had a date with Peter Piper. Well, I was supposed to have a date with him. That’s what the manicure was for. But, after I tumbled down the hill after you, I had to go all around the mulberry bush helping Humpty Dumpty pick up his pieces. He fell off the wall trying to catch you as you rolled past him. Poor Humpty was a mess, crying all these yolky tears. You know the King’s men couldn’t even put him back together the last time he fell. They had to fly in a specialist from Boston. Fortunately, this time wasn’t as bad.

Humpty and I finally found all his pieces, and Mother Goose came running over to tell me you had a bad gash on your head. They’d tried to take you to the hospital, but London Bridge was falling down and they couldn’t get you to the other side. She wanted me to know King Cole’s private physician was stitching you up over at the castle. Nobody cared that my head, shoulders, knees, and toes were all dirty and bruised. No one cared about my manicure, either. Still, I would have come to see you right then. You are my brother, after all, and I care what happens to you. I was on my way, in fact, when three blind mice raced past me. The Farmer’s wife had been chopping carrots and had accidentally cut off their tails! The mice were screeching so loud, I didn’t hear Boy Blue blowing his horn in warning. Next thing I knew, the wheels on the bus almost ran right over me!

By this time, it was getting late and I knew I’d never make it back to town in time for my date. I couldn’t call Peter because my cell phone shattered under one of those stupid metal pails. So I stopped at Miss Muffet’s house to use her phone. She was eating a big bowl of porridge, which, by the way, smelled delicious. My stomach grumbled to remind me of the appetite I’d built up from all the running around. I was dialing the phone when suddenly Muffet shrieked loud enough to burst my eardrums. Her bowl went flying through the air, smashed on the floor, and splattered bits of porridge all over me. The stuff was even in my hair! When I finally managed to calm her down, she told me she’d been frightened by a spider that sat down beside her. I checked, and it was an itsy, bitsy spider! I practically needed a magnifying glass to see it.

I cleaned myself up as best I could, then finally made the call to Peter. His roommate Jack Horner answered, and told me Peter had left long ago. He thought I stood him up, so he took Bo Peep to Old MacDonald’s for fresh pumpkin pie. And you know how Bo Peep is. She wears those frilly dresses and bats her long lashes, while putting on the helpless girl act. The guys always fall for it, too. I’ve probably lost my chance with Peter now.

All of this wouldn’t be nearly as upsetting if I could make the least bit of sense out of you insisting I meet you up on that hill in the first place. I can’t believe you fell for that nonsense Muffin Man told you. Did you honestly think there was a magical well up on that hilltop? Water does not flow uphill! I’m sorry you’re injured, Jack, but yesterday was the absolute worst day of my life and I’m exhausted. I won’t be picking you up at the castle. London Bridge is completely destroyed, so you’ll have to row your boat down the stream. I plan to spend the day in bed, with the covers over my head. Queen of Hearts brought over some hot cross buns. You can have those for dinner. Please don’t disturb me.

Your sister,


A Snapshot in Time


I stand at the edge of the path and stare into the clearing. The schoolhouse, long ago abandoned, somehow manages to retain its warmth in the midst of the cold, forgotten landscape. Nowadays, schools resemble prisons; sprawling gray fortresses children are forced to attend. That was not always so, and the loss saddens me.

This red schoolhouse, like most of the others of its day, resembles a church. Though even the churches have now grown large and foreboding, haven’t they? We’re always striving for bigger and better. Somewhere along the way, we traded our quaint lifestyle for high-rises and shopping malls the size of small cities.

I look at the barren tree and recall the days of playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie. I can almost hear the shrill giggles of my childhood friends as we clasped hands in a circle. Mrs. Schneider, our teacher, would call us in after our fifteen-minute recess and all our noses would be bright red from the cold. We’d quickly settle into our seats, always happy to be there. We all loved our school and our teacher. Learning was an adventure we each eagerly sought.

I’ve been gone from this place for many years. I grew up and married my childhood crush. Elliot sat behind me from kindergarten through fifth grade, right here in this very schoolhouse. He’d pull on my strawberry-blonde banana curls and feign innocence when I turned to tell him to stop.

As young adults, Elliot’s job took us far away. We settled into our new life and raised four beautiful children. Our children grew into wonderful adults, and soon we were blessed with fifteen healthy grandchildren. When I look back, it all seems to have happened in the blink of an eye. Hard to believe I now have seven great-grandchildren. And I’m a widow. I lost Elliot three years ago. When I close my eyes, I can still feel him pulling on my banana curls.

I have not returned to this place in all the decades of my adulthood. The memories, though, remain vivid. This was a time of joyous innocence, and I worry that this new generation of children will never know such youthful exuberance.

My granddaughter, Barbara, touches my arm. “Are you ready to go, Grandma?” she asks. “It’s getting awfully cold.”

I look at that little red schoolhouse and try to imagine the scene through her eyes. She might describe it as old-fashioned, possibly even bleak. Everything in her world has always been so much larger. She grew up in a city of skyscrapers, and her son’s school is a huge block of concrete with metal detectors and security guards.

This little red schoolhouse is where I learned about the world, and where I fell in love. I don’t know how to tell her all I feel when I stand here.

Barbara senses my melancholy. She wraps her arms around me and says, “Sad that they’re tearing it down.”

Tears sting my eyes. “Yes. Before long this will be yet another mall.”

She slips a camera from her pocket and snaps a photo. That’s what our lives come down to in the end; just a snapshot in time.