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A Hair’s Breadth From Death

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Tommy. The man’s name was Tommy. 

Johnny knew Tommy’s past. He’d read his file, the one that Middy and Taz had spent the past year putting together once they’d put enough pieces in place for Archie’s downfall to be all but inevitable. Tommy was as charming and affable as Archie had once been, and from all appearances his easygoing personality wasn’t a front - or at least that was what Mirko had said. It was almost a shame he’d gotten tangled up in this mess, because in another life Johnny thought he might have liked the man. 

Still, Tommy was loyal to Archie, even though he knew now that Archie had been killed four months ago. He’d put out feelers after Archie’s disappearance, trying to figure out with the rest of his crew what had happened to Archie, and Johnny knew he’d work it out and go after them eventually. He’d only been a low level hitman before joining Archie, lusting for more, and whilst recruiting him to their dark web shit might have given him enough of a rush to let the past stay where it belonged, it was too much of a risk for Johnny. Tommy might forgive and forget, or he might play the long game. If he was charming and easygoing despite four years in Archie’s company, he had significant patience, and that made him an unknown quantity.

So he had to die. 

He’d started pleading the second he saw Johnny’s gun. Samy hadn’t even been out of the door fully, and Johnny thought he might have heard a snicker as the door shut.

It was no use. Tommy had to die, he was always going to die. There was no other outcome for him. It wasn’t his fault, but that was perhaps cold comfort. He’d gambled and lost, and that was that. He’d shot for the moon, only to instead find the icy embrace of dead space.

“There’s no point begging me,” Johnny said flatly. His voice rang out as he closed the gap between them, echoing off the container walls. “You’re a threat to me. A loose end, and I’m meticulous.”

“I won’t go after you, please don’t kill me, I just want to go home,” Tommy rasped, wriggling like he could squirm free. His eyes were wide and fixed on Johnny behind the fine veil of dark hair, his breathing strangled and wheezing from the noose and what Johnny presumed was cigarette smoke blown in his face. “Please let me go home.”

Johnny shook his head. “You know I can’t do that. You’re loyal to Archie, even though you know he’s dead. Who’s to say you won’t come after me? I spent so long working to take out Archie and neutralise the threat he was to me. Do you really think I’d leave the job unfinished?”

Tommy stilled at that. “So you’re Johnny,” he said. “I know about you. Archie spoke about you, how you kept trying to one-up him in front of your higher ups. He always knew you were coming after him.”

“Well maybe he should have tried to be less of a cunt,” Johnny said sharply, drawing closer to Tommy. “And I know about you, too,” he added, tilting his head. “Tommy, a low level hitman in LA, desperate to enter the big leagues of the underworld, hoping for glory Archie promised you. Well, I do have to hand it to you, cuz you did join the big leagues. But that doomed you. Your fate was sealed the second you threw your lot in with Archie.”

The fight seemed to leave Tommy at that. “At least you’re the one to kill me,” he said, swallowing. His shaky breathing was now all that remained of his fear. “You could have sent someone else to do the job, but you didn’t. Your friend wasn’t lying.”

“I have some honour, it can be said. Not enough to apologise for the liberties Samy took with you, mind you,” Johnny replied. “I didn’t tell him to string you up or play with you, just to keep you on ice. But he’s easily bored, and I didn’t tell him he couldn’t amuse himself.”

Tommy’s gaze flickered down to where Johnny’s gun hung loose in his hand. “And you’ll shoot me,” he said, voice trembling, gaze shining. “At least it’ll be quick.”

He’s accepted his fate, and he’s trying to be brave about it. 

Still, Johnny couldn’t let himself like the man. “I’m not unreasonable, and neither are you. If you were more like Archie I’d just slide this stool out from under you and let you choke.”

“Is that what you did to him?”

Johnny shook his head. “No. An eye for an eye, that’s how it goes. Middy and Taz have one each. I kept his lying tongue for myself. Then I slit his throat. It wasn’t quick or clean, not like it will be for you.”

Tommy started trembling again at that, though he didn’t beg. Not the snivelling coward he first seems.

Johnny raised the gun, one finger flicking the safety off. Tommy jerked hard at that, words leaving his mouth in a terrified rush, eyes squeezing shot so he didn’t have to face his fate. It took a few seconds for Johnny to realise he was praying, that the words leaving his lips weren’t silent pleas for mercy directed at him but at god.

He sneered. Religion had never held much lustre for him. Still, it meant acceptance, so he let it slide.

“Tell me one thing,” he said, pressing the barrel of his pistol against Tommy’s head. Tommy’s head jerked as the cold metal met his skin and his prayers became louder for a second, almost sobs before he quieted. “You joined Archie to leave being a menial hitman behind. Was it worth it? Did you get your glory?”

That was enough for Tommy to stop praying. He opened his eyes, revealing the shimmery glint of tears. Despite the teary-eyed fear, however, something like pride hardened his features. “Yes,” he said. “I got what I wanted and more. I was a god, if only for a short while.”

I was wrong about him. Rage rose up in Johnny’s chest, so all-consuming he could hardly breath. He squeezed the trigger. 

The shot rang out, a deafening echoing crash that hurt his ears - stupid, not bringing earplugs - and blood splattered the floor. The force of the shot had sent Tommy’s body swaying, and his feet slipped off the stool, leaving him to hang. Johnny watched him swing like a pendulum, rage sloughing away as swiftly as it had appeared. He sighed, flicking the safety back on his gun before tucking it away.

Behind him, the door opened. Johnny didn’t need to turn to know it was Samy, coming in to inspect his work. 

“What did you think?” Samy’s voice rang out as he came over to him.

Johnny shuddered. “I thought he might have been alright, but I was wrong. I should have kicked that stool out from under him and let him fucking choke,” he said, but that anger that had fuelled him had burnt out to emptiness. “He’s exactly like Archie.”