Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ian Gillan Interview - June 2010

In the summer of 2010, devilgotmywoman interviewed Ian Gillan, lead singer of Deep Purple, on behalf of the Deep Purple Hub. This interview, conducted over the phone, focused on writing and creativity Ian's answers are in bold and italics.

Ian, I’m interviewing you on behalf of the Deep Purple Hub.

All right, okay.

Yeah. How are you doing today?

I’m okay. Not so bad, thank you.

That’s great. Great to hear it. Brent wanted me to extend his thanks and my thanks as well for the time that it takes to do this interview. We’re really honored that you can find time in your busy schedule to converse with us.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

Let’s not waste too much time because I have a really heavy schedule this afternoon.

Okay, all right. Well what I’d like to cover today is actually a pretty narrow topic. I’d like to talk to you about writing and songwriting specifically. The first question that I would like to throw your way is... it seems to me that your songwriting has gained an added depth over the last 20 years. How has your songwriting changed through the years and do you think has the creative impulse deepened for you?

Has the creative impulse what?

Deepened for you.

Well… like anything I think the more you do it the more you enjoy it – it comes easier. Lyrics have never been a problem for me – I think it’s just the reflection of growing up, really. You know, as you go through different phases of your life, different things touch you, different things affect you, I think you become more philosophical, more spiritual. Perhaps a little less angry as you mature. And that’s reflected in the writing. A little more contemplative – and that also takes you on different paths. So as your world becomes richer through experience, I think it’s a byproduct really of all the other things that make input into the music. The other musicians you work with and other circumstances, but it’s just the richness of life really. So yes, I get more enthusiastic about it. I think I’ve always enjoyed life on the road and going into the studio was always a bit of a challenge, I mean not always because of the music but because maybe of the circumstances, but I think yeah, the last 20 years, certainly since Steve joined the band, it seems to given Purple the new zest of life because we were certainly heading for terminal velocity there.

That kind of leads to the next question. Can you discuss the importance of the lyric for you? I’ve noticed in the last 15 or 20 years the lyrics are seem to have gotten more complex than what they were in the earlier days and I think that reflects more of an attention to detail on your part … rather than merely trying to find phonetic hooks to hang, you know, a song on. That you really are trying to explore ideas and really trying to explore what you can do with words within a musical framework and I just wanted to hear your thoughts for a minute on how important the lyric is for, I guess, the modern rock song.

Well, I’ve always felt and I still believe that a rock song limits you somewhat. I don’t just write rock songs, but I mean… I’ve always believed, for example, that in a rock song the sound of the words is much more important than the meaning of them. This, I think, comes through the idea of the voice being another instrument in a band and making up part of the whole racket. It always seemed to me that the melodies and the percussive values and the phrasing, and that sort of thing, were absolutely vital in a rock song. And, quite honestly, (laughs)… you can have some… I’ll give you an example… Roger and I still look at each other occasionally, we’re having a laugh on stage when we’re doing Black Night and we mouth the words "What is this song about?" (laughs) It was written in 10 minutes, and it was written to fit the instrumental idea. That's when we really found out about – the riffs, the rhythm, and everything else. We had the melody and what I call "vocal gibberish" when I try to sing… writing a song, I sing along with the guys in the band – if I’m working with a band. I’m trying shape the vocals into what it should be and find a line, a dominant line, that comes afterwards and appears to be pulling the song along. And that’s the most important thing. But once you’re comfortable with that and you’re comfortable with your phrasing, you can look at the gibberish... then I find a few lines to get the rhythmical pattern of the lyrics, but the most important part then is you have to find the meaning for the song – to develop the lyrics to an extent. If it’s as it was in the old days, all about fast cars and loose women and bad hangovers, then you can, you know, you’re not really challenged that much. You just come up with the old clichĂ©s. But you get sick of them after a while and, as I said in the reply to your first question, you know, life’s become… enriched. I often get asked, I used to when I was a kid: "What’s your favorite color?", "What’s the name of your pet?", "What’s your favorite car?". Well, you don’t have those sort of things when you get to the middle age or beyond. You have a selection of favorites. You say: "Oh, I remember I had this, and I had that… that was pretty good."

Okay. You are obviously the co-writer of some of the most memorable songs in modern music, but you’ve also performed the material from different writers, and much more so than a lot of your contemporaries have. Is the approach and the connection for that material the same to songs you write yourself or does it has to differ?

Well, it comes about in different ways. You know, music is such a part of my life that it will happen the same as meeting the stranger in the street or an old friend in the street or somebody calling up on the phone or, you know, meeting someone in a bar somewhere. It’s the way songs come about. Circumstances. And so I get the phone call from Steve Morris, or end up writing with Tony Iommi or Dean Howard or Michael Jackson or whole bunch of people. Or you’re writing for a project or whatever. It’s just, you said it right, you absorb other people’s musical influences too, so the chemistry changes when you’re writing with one person, Mr. A as opposed to Mr. B or whoever. It completely changes. As the conversation works. You know, for example, if somebody’s got an interest in car repair, somebody’s got an interest in theology or someone’s got an interest in astronomy or someone’s got an interest in football. So your conversation leads that way and if you follow that line of thought, then the songs will be written in that way. Sometimes, outside of Purple, sometimes they are lyrically driven but not very often. It’s very often a phrase that will come together, you know, with a simple strumming on your guitar or an idea from somebody else that just presents through the phrasing – the suggestion of the title, or an idea or a story, or thought. It all starts from small things that. It’s like life, you know, it’s not… just half of it is professional discipline and experience and the other half is just the joy of life, really.

Well, great! That leads into my next question actually. I was going to ask… you often hear writers in every medium, whether it’s music, poetry, fiction, whatever, talk about how sometimes they feel like they are the conduit for powers greater than themselves. What are your…

Sometimes they feel what?

The conduit for powers is greater than themselves. And I was wondering what’s your thoughts on inspiration versus craft.

Well the conduit is the influences you have absorbed during your formative years and, consequently, the influences your parents, your grandparents, your ancestors what influenced them during their formative years because it’s all handed down. And it is encapsulated, absorbed, interpreted, and then passed on. And then reinterpreted and then it’s intellectually vandalized and then, there deep in the soul, deep in the spirit somewhere. So only, my immediate ancestry involves a very musical and creative background. My grandfather, my uncle, my mother, my grandmother – opera, jazz... and I was a boy soprano in a church choir so I got to learn a lot of choralling and things like that. So I think when you start writing to a formula, whether it’s a rough formula, but when you’re starting to write in a genre, let’s say, then you have to develop certain disciplines and you got to know the percussive value of this sound and then you got to know the high notes. No singer likes to hear a high note with an "u" sound, the vowel sound or something like that. They would much rather have an "i" or "a" because it’s the shape of the throat. So you develop those things and you develop the construction things. You’ve got to have a grasp with, you know the basic grasp, with the tools of your trade, and, if not, you've got to develop them. An understanding for innuendo, understanding of parody, and understanding of figurative speech, things like that. And the idea of underlying meanings in terms of the song and you got to really feel your subject. You don’t want to be preaching from the pulpit about it. You may want to otherwise… subtly inquire (laughs) about the morals or the values of certain issues, but you can do that through humor, you can do that through understatement. You can do it through irony and satire, and all of those things. So I think it’s intertwined. The idea of spiritual and inspirational side or the professional side... and each one, most of our existence is symbiotic and I think this is just another example of that.

Is it possible for you to pinpoint the moment that the proverbial light went off above your head and you realized that songwriting interested you?

Well, it’s pretty early on, and I mean Roger Glover was the main influence on me. He came into a band called Episode Six. I recognized at that time the general… a band can be full of camaraderie at one end and then it can be full of jealousy and self-interest the next. And you… I saw this in early stages when… Roger came in with an idea for the song and I could see the resentment in the other guys in the band. "Whoa, why should we do one of your songs?" and all that sort of thing. And it’s very childish really. Boost up their insecurities and heavy jealousies and that sort of thing. It’s a natural sort of immature approach to life, but that’s why young bands have so much trouble staying together because of this driving force. I mean, Darwin didn’t finish his book, he left all that impression the survival was the key thing. In actual fact, the driving force behind humanity, I believe, is supremacy. And that’s why every single idea is fought for and that’s why students and developments in that age group are so important. Made a big impact on me because I had no involvement in writing before, I was a bit of Jack the lad, street guy, having fun. Never really took it that seriously because it all came so easily. Then Roger wrote this song and he was the underdog politically and I was the new boy, so I kind of sided with him and it ended up being the B-side, a song called "That’s All I Want". And I became fascinated with this process of writing and Rog was… always had a big uphill battle when he presented anything to the band, there was lots of undermining the action. So I said one day something along the lines, I can’t remember exactly, you know, "I wish I could write a song". And then Rog said, "I’m not going to speak to you until you have." I came up with something I think, I’m not sure what it was. Yes, it was a one-eyed, one… no, it was "green-eyed, coolly-headed, cute, little, pig me, hang it around my neck". That’s what it was. It was a parody on "Purple People Eater" or "itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini" – something like that. But, anyway, that was the folly of youth. It’s just the light went on then because Roger and I just sat down and started working on the craft and we wrote endless crap songs that during the process we learned what to eliminate as well what to keep. And since then one of the most important factors is spontaneity because the worst songs you ever write, particularly, in your early years are the ones that take too long. So now if the idea isn’t really working early on, isn’t becoming, hasn’t developed an identity after 20 minutes… I tear it up and tuck it away or start again. It’s a long journey since that light went on.

Okay, yeah. Let’s talk about some of your most famous songwriting partnerships. You’ve worked with Roger Glover and Steve Morse. What added dimension have they brought to your songwriting process individually? If you can sum that up?


I said if you could sum that up.

Well, as I said earlier, everyone has something to give and it’s all different. And it’s not just down to the skills or their abilities, it’s down to their personality and their interest. And their conversation, and their moods and company they keep, and the background and history. So all of those things are very complex, but I think what Steve brought into the band, first of all, was some respect. Prior to that we had, forgive me, I call them ‘banjo players’ when they act like prima donnas, but we had a fantastic guitar player up until that point who really wasn’t being a team player, there was no cohesion, and the band was falling to pieces. It was the end of the road. And so Steve brought this great renaissance. Of course, he also brought a different background and so his angle on music was completely different to Ritchie’s. Totally different. He didn’t have that kind of blues and English rock and roll influence we had behind the scenes. And the different angles that we’d approached our music. But for sure, for sure, he has amazing skills, is full of musical ideas, and understood a rock band inside out. He added an American touch, you know, that has broadened our scope a little bit. So yes, suddenly we’re looking at different chord structures, fresh approaches, and new ideas. and I think when we made "Purpendicular" it was really a stepping stone in Purple’s career you know, in our lives. Roger, over the years we did all of the… you know, I’d come up with tunes pretty much and then we’d work on the lyrics to the songs over the years and we were pretty much co-lyricists, I would say. Some of them came easy and some of them took a little while and these are advantages and disadvantages of working with a lyricist partner. Cause once you get the two-angled approach to the song, you may also lose direct focus. The train of thought may be interrupted by someone else’s idea and so you go off on a tangent and maybe lose the magic of the moment. But, all in all, these are incredible influences. Absolutely fantastic.

You mentioned "Purpendicular". I just want to take the time to say that’s for me it’s one of the greatest modern albums of the last 25 years. I never tire of listening to it.

Yes, thank you.

Do you record demos of new songs when you are on the road or at home if not can you kind of describe how your songwriting process typically works?

Well, it’s different. With Purple, we don’t do anything, we just turn up with nothing, put the kettle on, "How’s the dog? You still got that car? How’s the football team doing?" that sort of thing. Then we drift into the studio and stay there for six hours a day until the album’s done in about five weeks. After about three days, we record all the jams and little things develop. Roger is generally the one that goes through them in the evening and picks out little jams he’s marked during the day. And, after a day or two, we’ve got enough to bring us back thinking that may be the basis for a song or two and then we start developing those rhythms, riffs, sequences, etcetera. They’re all are made from jams. Every single song ever has… in Purple, that’s what happens. But when I’m working with, for example, Steve Morris, he’ll just send me a tape with some grooves, some ideas, and then mostly stuff I just want to sit down and start working on, "Yeah, I can sing to that!" Great! So, it’s the same thing, but it comes in different package and, as far as other songs are concerned, I’ve written some just strumming on my guitar. They tend to be very basic; they’re not complex chord sequences or anything because I’m not that adept on the guitar – I’m only just a strummer, really. Three chord strummer. Well, a bit more than three, but you know what I mean. So these ideas come just when I’m sitting around on my own occasionally and the song comes. That’s out of the blue normally, I just go ‘Oh!’, reach for the guitar, and start. You know, it may be for moment of joy, or a moment of sadness and I like strumming on the guitar anyway. It comes in many different ways.

How important do you think it is for a songwriter or a writer in general to constantly be exposing themselves to new work and new artists?

Well, I don’t think it’s that important. I think it’s important when you’re young. I think it’s very important when you’re young because, and I’ve always said this, I think contemporary art can only be judged subjectively. It can’t be judged objectively by… You know, you get caught up in it, you get swept it away as part of a social movement more or less whether it’s literature, or art, painting, or anything since the Renaissance and we can remember. So yes, it’s very important to be part of the movement because you’re still developing and that gives you your identity, that gives your raison d'ĂȘtre, that gives you your suit of armor, your uniform in which you can march up on life and discover yourself. As time goes on, you discover more inside yourself than you do outside and that’s one of the whole processes of maturing – you start becoming contemplative and thinking about the things that you’ve learned and the things that have affected you, touched you in your life. And that’s a whole new resource, that’s a bottomless well. So you can search anything for it. I’m not sure if anyone else agrees with me, but also at the same time, you lose touch with the previous generation – that’s natural. They want their own team. There’s an intellectual vandalism that comes along and smashes the walls down and says, "I didn’t write it, so it doesn’t exist. I’m going to destroy it." It doesn’t go away. You have to look at things differently. So I would say it’s not very important once you found your journey in life to look at your own choices seemingly and not be bound by convention. So identity is quite important. Of course, the downside of that is you can get stuck in a rut and you can become non-productive, but I think that if you keep momentum, and I’m lucky to be in the band that’s, you know, is always working so I’ve always got the momentum, I come back and music's in my blood even when I’m on a break as I am now (laughs). I’m thinking about things all day long. They may not be musical things, they may be things that I’m noting down in my book. But since I was at school, I was told: ‘If you want to remember something, write it down.’ So little things that annoy me on TV, or things that inspire me that I see in nature, they get noted down and they will sooner or later in one way or another become part of a song. It’s transferred into music. The experience of life.

Having some experience with writing fiction can you compare what it takes to writing a compelling story as opposed to writing a first class song?

Yeah. It’s completely different. It’s a different discipline altogether. It’s the same as the difference between the lyrics and the poetry. I mean, they go down on paper, but one is accompanied by music and one is not. And so, they’re completely different. And when you’re talking about fiction or a novel or song lyrics, the two obvious differences when you look at them is that the one is short form and the other is long form, and when you’re writing a short form, you’ve got to say awful lot of things in a very small space of time and so it becomes concise and that’s relatively easy to connect with. When you’re writing a long book, you’ve got to develop characters, you've got to develop scenarios, you’ve got to develop dialogue, and you've got to develop structure, pace and all of those things and, of course, have a good story line. Beginnings, middles, and endings – I suppose that’s the only similar thing to a song really. And, in a song, you have no time to develop characters or any of those other things, so you really expect the listener to do much of the work, which is one of the problems we have today because for the last generation of music, at least, it’s evident that everyone listens to music with their eyes and so that becomes a bit of a problem.

I’d like to… this is probably a strange sort of word, but I’d like to ask about the process of cannibalizing old material in new songs. An example of this is that the title song of your third Ian Gillan Band album Scarabus is very similar to "Disturbing the Priest" on your album with Black Sabbath, Born Again. At least, it sounds similar in structure.


What is the reason behind any of that….

It is not cannibalizing. It’s just the backing track. I didn’t even remember, but the song was developed in the studio with Sabbath, I was using my gibberish thing and I was singing what just came naturally, and it so happened it was similar to ‘Scarabus’. You know, everyone’s done it. Little Richard’s done it, Elvis Presley’s done it, Chuck Berry’s done it a thousand times. It’s in your nature. It’s not intentional scavenging, it’s not intentional plagiarism. In fact, I’ve written about four hundred and fifty songs. That may have happened once or twice.

I thought it was a new attempt to take an interesting musical idea and try to do something different with it.

That’s one interpretation. I mean, it’s obviously what happened. You can say it anyway you like (laughs).

(laughs) Okay. In the past, you have mentioned a novel ‘Essex’ that remains unpublished. Aside of songwriting and fiction do you write anything else such as poetry?

Say that again, please.

I’m sorry.

It’s not the best line. I’m out by my pool and…


I’ve got to go back, I’ve got to wind this up in a few minutes…

Ok. In the past, you have mentioned a novel ‘Wessex’ that remains unpublished.

It remains unwritten.

Oh. I read an interview once that you’d completed a draft and, basically, got rid of it and was rewriting it again. I seem to remember that.

At the moment ‘Wessex’ is in a fantastic stage. It’s got about three different versions, each of which is about three or four chapters. But I’ve got the story, beginning,  and end. I’ve done all the political thinking and everything else. It’s the professional bit – the structuring and the story telling. I've sat down and told that story to so many of my friends from beginning to end that they know it inside out. But when you write it down, it’s got to be different. Somehow, it’s different. You’ve got to have character development and so, at the moment, I’m going through three or four different approaches. I’m looking forward to the three months off (laughs).

(laughs) Okay. I guess we can wrap this up with a final question. I think Dreamcatcher is a beautiful and unjustly neglected album. There’s a lot of the same sort of spirit on your latest solo album ‘One Eye To Morocco’. Is there any chance that your fans are going to hear similar efforts in the future?

Well, I think there might be, don’t ask I don’t know, but we used to call them EPs. What I’m talking about with my office now is a series of singles, five singles, three-tracked singles or something like that which will come again in an album in November next year.

That sounds fantastic!

So I’ve got a bunch of songs, I’ve got about probably about thirty songs in my library at the moment that, you know, I don’t know what to do with, so I should be reviewing those, making a short list, getting together with some pals and… I’ve got a few ideas already, but it's too soon to mention them.

Cool! Well, Ian. Thank you very much for your time. I can say with no exaggeration that this has been a thrill of a lifetime for me to be able to converse with you over the phone.

That’s very nice of you. Thank you very much.

Okay then. You have a fantastic day.

And you too. Thanks for calling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Thief - a short story

            It was the third car he had stolen in as many days. If Cecil Coyle drove the same car longer than twenty-four hours, the wrong person would see him. Maybe some bored cop creeping through a housing project, maybe some jumpsuit clad street guy grabbing the chance to score points with guys higher up the food chain, but someone would spot him. They would follow him and end his life with handcuffs or a gun.

            The car trunk was full of heroin. There were four twenty-five pound blue duffle bags bursting with high quality narcotics from Southeast Asia. The zippers bulged and the leather straps were thin and frayed. He busted into a mob-owned, south side warehouse and raided the latest shipment. The security cop who patrolled the warehouses stumbled into Coyle as he was loading the last of the heroin. Coyle wrestled him to the ground, took his gun, dislocated his jaw, and vanished into the night.

            Coyle was selling the heroin cheap. He knew potential customers. He could sell it to the north side black gangs. They would want some serious weight. No one would get a lump in their throat over ripping off the Italians. He just needed time. He needed time to drop in on people, to talk, to make his moves. He needed another twenty-four hours.

            He was driving back to the motel to sleep. He had been awake for twenty-eight hours and propped his eyes open with ephedrine pills that he gulped by the handful. However, he needed to make some phone calls first.

            "I need to talk to Maurice."

            "Who wants him?" The man sounded skeptical and amused.

            "Tell him it's Coyle."

            Coyle heard the man set the phone down. There were foggy rumblings of conversation in the background. He pressed the cell phone hard against his cheek and steered with his free hand.

            Coyle heard someone pick the phone up. "I figured you'd be calling, Coyle."

            "You did, huh?"

            "The word is out about you, old man. They say every guinea downtown is looking to put a bullet in your head. They got an open contract out on you."

            "How much?"

            "Two-hundred fifty thousand."

            Coyle whistled. "The heroin in my trunk is worth a lot more."

            "No doubt. But you know these wops. They like to keep the help hungry."

            They were quiet for a few seconds. "I need to move this shit, Maurice. I need to move it now."

            "I bet you do. How much weight?"

            "Two hundred pounds."

            Maurice laughed. "I heard three hundred."

            "I unloaded some already. Saw Calo and his homeboys. They took fifty pounds. I got some Russian friends on the east side who got some. When the smack is this good and this cheap, everyone wants some."

            "Except for the Italians. They just want some of your ass."

            "Fuck them. The cops do too. They can stand in line."

            "How much?"

            "Two hundred thousand for the whole thing. Twenty-five thousand a package."

            Maurice chuckled. "Nice and affordable. A man who takes some of that off your hands stands to make some bank."

            "You that man?"

            "Come by the apartment tonight at one. We'll work something out."

            "Alright. See you then, Maurice."

            "Don't get whacked before then."

            Maurice hung up. Maurice had one of the biggest crews on the north side. They moved drugs, ran whores, and paid a few stone-faced killers that they farmed out to the Italians and Russians alike. Coyle had known Maurice since they were kids. He could trust him.

            Coyle had to get out. He had to tear himself free from the cycle of robbery, assaults, drug deals, and murder that had held him down for thirty years. He was forty-five years old. He had burned up ten years in state prison on a drug trafficking charge. His family was scattered to the wind. The judge handed down a twenty year prison sentence on his ex-wife for drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder. His only child, Alan, was a twenty-one year old junkie who prowled the streets and slept in deserted buildings. Coyle had to save himself and a trunk full of stolen heroin was the way.
            Coyle pulled into the motel parking lot. It was a paint-flecked, single level limestone bunker called Economy Motel. The rooms had steel doors dented from years of abuse that reminded Coyle of prison cell doors. A large neon sign towered over the entrance.

            Coyle carried the duffle bags into his room. Long strips of particleboard paneled the walls. Many of the strips had warped and its brown stain had faded to a spotted, sandy hue. The bed was small and the sheets were thin. A small tiled bathroom was directly in front of the door and heavy green curtains hung over the single window.

            In twenty-four hours, he would be either speeding down the interstate or sprawled out and face down in the street with a gaping hole in his head. Coyle lit a cigarette, kicked off his shoes and laid back on the bed. He knew that Maurice would buy a lot, if not all, of the remaining packages. If he did not, Coyle would drop in on some of Maurice's competition that roamed the far west side. They would take whatever he had.

            He rolled out of bed and went into the bathroom. The small room stunk of mold. He studied his reflection in the mirror and stroked his chin. There were long half circles the color of cigarette ash under his eyes. Stubble covered his cheeks and chin. The long blonde mane he had sported as a young man was gone. The top of his head was bald, the remaining hair on each side was graying, and he had a short ponytail. His body was still muscular and taut, but his face was red and swollen. He ate two blood pressure pills a day to keep a rein on hypertension. He flipped off his reflection in the mirror and walked out of the bathroom.

            Coyle wanted to talk to his mother before he left. He wanted her to know what he now knew and wanted her to know why he was going to disappear. He would not go see her. Someone might see him visiting her and a million dollars worth of heroin was enough to give guys ideas about pressing a gun to a seventy-year-old woman's head.


            "Mom, it's me."

            He heard the harsh clanging of pots and pans. She was doing dishes. "Cecil. How you doing?"

            "I'm breathing. You?"

            "Probably doing better than you. You sound tired. What's going on?"

            "I was thinking about Jack Wagner, the old barber who you and dad used to take me to as a kid."

            "The one on the south side of the square?"

            "Yeah. I was thinking about how he used to teach me chess when I was a kid. I think I was seven or eight around that time, but it doesn't matter. That old man really took his time to teach me something."

            "He really liked you, Cecil." She laughed. "Your dad never liked him. I think the bastard was just jealous because something like chess was beyond him."

            Coyle chuckled. "Yeah, dad taught me things though too. How to bust out a lock, hotwire a car, make a homemade silencer. Those things have their place."

            "Yeah, they have their place alright." She coughed and cleared her throat. "Cecil, what's on your mind? Just come out with it."

            He stretched out on the bed. "I was thinking about how life seems so fucking random. Everything dangles off such a thin string. You make one wrong turn and everything changes. You get one father figure instead of another and everything changes. You make decisions at fifteen years old and you're still feelin' the consequences at forty-five."

            "You wonder how things might have been different with a man like Jack Wagner as your dad?" His mother sighed. "We get one spin of the wheel, Cecil, and even that one spin has catches and conditions."

            "I don't know how I've made it this far, mom."

            "I don't either. You should have been dead a lot of times. But you were a smart eight year old and you've been crafty all your life."

            Coyle snorted. "Yeah. Too smart for my own good."

            "Is there something going on that you want to tell me about? You in trouble?" His mother was a bartender once and her voice shuddered and soared. She sounded like she was shouting out last call on a Friday night.

            "I'm getting out of this city, mom. Leaving for good."


            "I've gotta get out. I can't take the life anymore."

            "The cops after you?"

            "Things haven't been good for a while. I'm having a hard time caring about anything except getting out."

            "But you called me?"

            "You deserve more. You always did."

            They were both silent. Coyle wanted to say more. He wanted to tell her that he had some idea now what she had went through with his dad. His dad, long dead, was his one-time hero. His mother was the nagging, tugging voice of reason that Coyle had always ignored. He wanted to tell her that he had loved the wrong parent and was sorry for everything since he was fifteen years old.

            "I've got to go, mom. I've got to get some sleep."

            "I talked to Alan two days ago, Cecil."

            Coyle felt his heart beat fast. "Really?"

            "Yeah. When was the last time you saw or talked to him?"

            Coyle shook his head and rubbed his forehead. "Fuck, I don't know. Two years? I've heard things though."


            "That he's banging around the strip begging for drugs and sleeping in an abandoned building by St. Michael's Church."

            "Guess that sums it up. He sure looked like it."

            "What do you mean?"

            "I was coming out of the grocery store when I saw him. The Cosco on 35th street. He ran into me when I was coming out."

            "What did he have to say? How did he act?" Coyle's words tumbled off his lips. He felt like he could not talk fast enough.

            "He was fucked up, Cecil. High out of his mind. Asked me if I had any money."

            "You didn't give him any, right?"

            "Don't yell at me, damnit." She grumbled. "No, I didn't give him a dime. You should know that."

            "Sorry for yelling."

            "He told me where he was staying though."


            "Sleeping in that building by St. Michael's. It used a be an old bar."

            "He there alone?"

            "Hell if I know, Cecil. Once he found out I wasn't giving him any money, he walked off."

            "Okay, mom. I've gotta go. I've gotta get some sleep."

            "Alright, Cecil. Call me when you can." Smoke and phlegm choked her voice.

            "I will."

            He ended the call. He sat the phone down on the nightstand and clutched a nearby pillow. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

            Coyle opened his eyes at midnight. The persistent beep of his phone alarm filled his ears. He sat up and shut the phone off. The fluorescent glow of city lights swelled behind the curtains like the moon hung inches from the glass. A headache caused his head to throb. Coyle coughed, walked to the bathroom, and gulped down ten ephedrine pills.

            He had to go meet Maurice and his people. It took him five minutes to get ready. He locked the room, slung a duffle bag over each shoulder, and walked to the trunk.

            Coyle felt the knife press against his throat when he reached for his keys. The knife leaned from side to side and caused his skin to sting. He felt hot breath against his ear and a heaving chest pushing against his back.

            "Sit the bags down slow, motherfucker."

            He bent at the knees, lowered the bags to the pavement, and stood again. The man's jerky hands riffled through his pockets and frisked his legs and chest. The man's smell caused Coyle to grimace. It was vomit and sweat spiked with urine. Coyle gritted his teeth and felt his neck tighten. A junkie, a sick and broken junkie, was looking for anything he could take. If he made twenty dollars, he would dash away smiling. Coyle felt his stomach rumble and twist with blooming rage. The man was not going to hold him up.

            "Turn around, piece of shit. Slow."

            Coyle knew the man stood two feet behind him. At the most. He whipped around and sent a hard kick into the man's crotch. The man gasped for air, doubled over, and crumbled to the pavement. Coyle looked down at him. He was a young white kid, tall, and shriveled. His skin was like chalk under the parking lot lights.

            He kicked him in the stomach and the man writhed. "Thought you had a good score? Wrong motherfucker, junkie."

            He glanced around for witnesses. The parking lot was empty and the distant street traffic would see nothing. He swung his leg back and sent another kick into the man's stomach. He gasped again and twitched on the concrete.

            Coyle's anger consumed him and a red cloud fell over his brain. He unzipped one duffle bag and pulled out his gun. He grabbed the man by his clothes and hair and yanked him to his feet. He glanced around for a place to go. He carried the man towards the corner of the building.

            The man had seen the gun. "Please, man, no. Please don't kill me!"

            There was a drainage ditch behind the motel. A steep incline led to an empty pizza parking lot below. It would be days, if not weeks, before someone stumbled on him. Coyle's hands trembled. He would make this junkie pay for trying to rip him off. He let go of the man and shoved him down to the ground. The two of them moved between narrow, scattered streams of parking lot lights.

            The man tried to crawl away. Coyle walked towards him and tapped his gun against his leg. "I'm fucking sorry, man, I am so sorry. I'm just sick and need help." He was weeping. He scrambled to his knees and waved his hands in the air.

            Coyle raised the gun fast and shot the man three times. The impact blew him back against the ground. His back smacked the ground with a loud clap. He rolled to the right and tumbled into the ditch. His body lurched then slumped to the ground.

            Coyle stepped to the edge of the ditch and gazed at the man. His knees were weak and caused him to teeter. He took a step back and bent over. The headache he had when he opened his eyes made him dizzy. He turned his head and vomited.

            When he finished, he straightened his back and brushed himself off. The anger that had gripped him was gone. A cold fist smashed the rage, squeezed his stomach, and caused his body to ache.

            He turned and walked back to his car. The duffle bags still sat by the trunk. He stuffed the gun back into the bag and put the bags in the trunk. He had to drive this out of his mind. It was time to see Maurice. Coyle climbed into his car and left.

            Coyle had not killed a man in two years. The last man was a Columbian he shot when a drug deal went bad. The Columbian was young like the man tonight. Coyle pushed his thoughts into a hole. The same hole that he had been shoveling regrets into for thirty years, a chasm deep inside, a cesspool swirling with justification and denial. He had to kill him. The junkie could have cut his throat and left him to bleed to death in the parking lot. Beating him down, breaking his fingers, snapping an arm, that would not have worked. He protected himself from a young junkie, no older than his own son was.

            He drove to Maurice's apartment. The north side of the city was an urban graveyard dotted by crumbling buildings. The row houses were pale and sagging. Neighborhood bars looked like bunkers chipped, cracked, and blackened by battle. The housing projects look like airplane hangars or warehouses.

            Maurice ran his crew out of a tenth floor apartment in a housing project. The rusted sign at the corner of 80th Street and Roosevelt Avenue said Green Ridge Manor, but the green ridge was nothing more than a narrow, twenty-foot strip of grass in front of the building. There was a row of six sprawling walnut trees on the strip. A small parking lot was behind the building.

            Coyle parked his car near the entrance and slid his gun into the glove compartment. He could trust Maurice to do business and if they ambushed him, he could not stop them. He went inside. The hallway had white plaster walls yellowed by nicotine and a sandpaper-colored, tattered shag carpet. He rode the elevator to the second floor and knocked at Maurice's apartment door.

            Someone dislodged a series of deadbolts. The door was heavy and creaked as it opened. A short black man with a bulging stomach and stepped towards Coyle.


            Coyle did not move. "I'm here to see Maurice. He's expecting me. I'm Coyle."

            The man looked him up and down. He turned and slammed the door behind him. Coyle did not hear him lock the door.

            He waited. He stood a foot from the door with his hands in his pockets. He shivered and shuffled his feet. The ephedrine pills faded away and smacked him with a hangover that caused him to shake through cold sweats and lose his balance. He was out right now. He would stop at some convenience store when he left here and pick up a bottle. They would keep him going for the next twenty-four hours. It would have to wait for now.

            The door swung open again and the man waved Coyle inside. A slow bass beat thudded in his ears. A guitarist peppered the tempo with ringing, looping chords and a gruff voice rapped over it about the police. The apartment was large and sparsely finished. The man led Coyle through the apartment and they passed the living room. Five young black men on leather couches played a video game. They were screaming about the game and passing around a thick joint. A canopy of marijuana smoke lingered over them.

            Coyle followed the man to the end of a hallway and into a large room. The room looked like an office. There was a large wooden desk and a wide black safe. Two wooden chairs sat in front of the desk. A dartboard hung on the wall next to a row of gun racks. They were full of shotguns and an AK-47 assault rifle. The man shut the door behind them.


            Maurice spun around in his chair and looked at Coyle. "You don't look so good, old man." He had broad shoulders, dark skin, and a long neck. He was tall and his eyes were egg-shaped. He seldom blinked and had a habit of nudging his head up when he spoke.

            "It's a hard business selling mob smack."

            Maurice laughed. His three soldiers in the room began laughing with him. He leaned back in his chair and interlocked his fingers behind his head.

            ""So you still wanting to unload that shit for what you said earlier?"

            Coyle nodded. "Yeah, you can't beat the deal."

            Maurice waved his hand towards one of the chairs. "Sit down, old man."

            Coyle shrugged. "I'm fine standing."

            "Ah, okay." Maurice smiled. "I tell you what I think. I think a man who rips off one of the biggest families in the city has two things. A death wish and a plan. I ask myself if I want to do business with that man. What does it mean for me."

            "You're a smart man, Maurice. You're thinking about the big picture."

            Maurice leaned forward and placed an arm on his desk. "So you tell me what the fuck is going on? I gotta know before we do anymore."

            "I'm done with the life and that heroin is my ticket out. I don't owe those fucks anything. I ran swag, I did jobs, I whacked out everyone they asked me to. Never asked questions. What did I get for all my work? I'm just a Irish tough guy to them and they piss all over me. I'm not the hired help."

            Maurice's lower lip curled out and he nodded. "I get that, brother. We both came up hard. Don't know how we're both still 'round. You got the package with you?"


            "I'm going to take two bundles. May call you tomorrow for more. If you still around."

            "I'm gonna try to be gone by then, but you can call."

            Maurice looked at his soldiers in the room. "Pookie, Kevin, go outside with Coyle. Help a motherfucker out."

            Pookie was the man who answered the door. Kevin was a thin black man, no more than twenty years old, with an afro and hawk-like features. The three men walked outside to Coyle's car and Pookie carried the bag inside. They walked back to Maurice's office and sat the duffle bag on a table.

            Maurice walked over to the table. He held a switchblade knife in his hand. He unzipped the duffle bag and pulled one of the bundles out. He sat it on the table and cut out a small hole near a corner of the bag. He shoveled a sprinkle of powder onto his blade and raised it to his mouth. He tasted it with his tongue and looked at Pookie.

            "Get your rig."

            Coyle watched as Pookie walked to a steel filing cabinet in a corner of the room. He slid the bottom drawer open and pulled out a small black case. He walked back and sat down at the table. He opened the case and brought out a hypodermic needle, tubing, spoon, and cigarette lighter. He glanced at Kevin.

            "What are you just standin' there for, nigger? Get me a glass of water."

            Kevin left the room. Coyle turned to face Maurice. "Let's get the money taken care of. I've got things to do."

            Maurice nodded. He glanced at the third soldier in the room, a young black kid with bulging muscles. The kid walked out of the room.

            "So what you going to do now?" Maurice said.

            "I got other people to see. It'll all work out."

            Maurice chuckled. "You better hope so, old man. I bet those guineas are looking under every rock for your ass."

            "If one of them find me, they better be ready. I'll shoot the motherfucker in the head."

            Maurice and other two men laughed. Pookie was cooking the heroin in a spoon. "You old school, Coyle. You know how those motherfuckers come. You better have eyes in the back of your head."


            The young black kid came back in the room with a duffle bag. He handed it to Coyle. Coyle sat the bag down on the ground, unzipped it, and looked inside. There were bundles of a hundred dollar bills strewn across the bottom of the bag. It looked right.

            "Looks good, Maurice. I gotta go."

            "Kevin will see you out." Maurice laughed. "Good luck, crazy motherfucker."


            Kevin led Coyle to the door. He tossed the money into the trunk and drove away. His eyes were heavy with sleep and blurry. He needed to load up on ephedrine pills to finish what he started and began looking around for a convenience store.

            He stopped at a Shell station two blocks south. There was a computer repair truck parked by a door and a long, black Lincoln Continental parked at one of the gas pumps. A tall, well-dressed man with slicked back blonde hair was pumping gas into the car. He sneered when Coyle looked at him.

            Coyle bought a coffee and a bottle of one hundred ephedrine pills. He walked back to his car. The man at the gas pumps was starting to drive off. Coyle was reaching for the keys in his pocket when he first heard the shrieking tires. He whipped around and saw the Lincoln Continental rushing towards him. Coyle ran from the car and pulled his gun from his waistband.

            He was dizzy but started shooting. The driver braked and the car screeched before it slammed into the front end of Coyle's car. Coyle scrambled for cover behind the trunk. The driver's side door flung open and the blonde man started shooting back.

            His gun jammed on his sixth shot. The blonde man fired one more shot. Coyle was crouched behind the trunk and the bullet moved his hair when it flew overhead. Coyle did not move. He wanted the blonde man to think he had shot, even killed, him. It would lure him to walk closer.

            Coyle heard him reload. His shoes scuffed the pavement and Coyle heard slow footsteps. Coyle waddled two steps towards the corner of the car and heard the blonde man's deep breathing. He had to time his right. The man had to be within his reach and he had to get control of his gun.

            He popped up and lunged at the man. He timed it right. Coyle punched him twice in the jaw and the man fell backwards. The gun slipped out of his hand and slid across the pavement. Coyle stalked around the corner of the car and grabbed the blonde man. He moaned and his head rolled in a circle. Coyle clutched the blonde man by the throat.

            "Big bad motherfucker." Coyle cocked his head to one side. He recognized him. "I know you, don't I? You run with Sonny's crew downtown, don't you?"

            The blonde man frowned. Blood bubbled from his mouth. "Fuck you, Coyle."

            Coyle smiled and nodded. "Thought so."

            He pushed the blonde man away and drove his knee into his stomach four times. The blonde man gasped and tumbled onto the pavement. Coyle turned and looked for the gun. It was a few steps away. Coyle walked over and picked it up.

            He walked back over to the blonde man. He was struggling to get to his feet and Coyle kicked him down to the pavement again. Coyle stood over him and they locked eyes.

            "Go ahead and kill me, motherfucker. You got yours coming."

            Coyle raised the gun and shot the blonde man four times in the head. He looked at the dead body for a moment and heard someone whispering. His body was shaking. When he looked up, he saw the store clerk standing inside the door with a cell phone pressed against his ear.

            Coyle raised the gun again and marched towards him. The clerk ran away from the door. Coyle stopped and lowered the gun. The low whine of police sirens were getting louder. He had to go. He hoped his car was still running.

            The front quarter panel was crumpled, but the car started without trouble. Coyle swallowed ten ephedrine pills before he drove out to the street. He looked at the body in the rear view mirror. It looked like a pile of clothes tossed into a gas station parking lot. Nothing more.

            It could have been him. If the blonde man had been sharper or if Coyle had been slower, it would be Coyle spread out in a convenience store parking lot. He had lived his life dangling from a thin thread tethering him to the next dollar and nothing more. He had dodged death many times, but he felt fear unlike any he had known before. He knew he could die and the city was crawling with mobsters itching to put a bullet in his head. His tight grip on the steering wheel turned his knuckles white while he scanned through pictures of the dead in his mind. Coyle killed two men in the last three hours. It could have been him. It still could be.

            The dead drug addict he left behind the motel could have been his son. It was not, but they were the same age and build. They had the same problems. Coyle's eyes swelled with tears. He might as well have put a bullet in his kid's head for all of the good he had done him. His own father was no prize, a wife-beating Irish drunk with a nose like a half-crushed pear, but Coyle matched him neglect for neglect in the parenting department. Instead of steering him with a steadier hand, he cut him loose to wander far from home. Instead of giving him a home, he shuffled his son and his ex-wife through a thousand apartments, paid the bills, and ambled in every few months with his arms full of gifts. Instead of giving him a father and mother, he would drink and fight with Alan's mother until they fucked and passed out, then leave the next morning. Coyle remembered it all. He remembered how his son looked as a little boy and the dead addict's face flashed across his mind.

            Coyle drove to St. Michael's Church on the corner of Roosevelt and 80th Street. He wanted to tell his son he was getting out. He had never told anyone he was sorry in his life, but Coyle wanted to look Alan in the face and tell him he had fucked up. He wanted taking off to show that he knew the years chasing every dollar were wasted time. When Coyle last saw his son, Alan delivered pizzas and lived with a stripper and her three-year-old daughter. It was two years later and his son slept in a burned out building, shot dope, and huddled with junkies on the street.

            The neighborhood was dotted with crumbling brownstones, brick row buildings with boarded up windows, and buckled A-frames with small, bowed front porches and mustard-colored aluminum siding. The sprawling church loomed over the neighborhood like an immense, hollow skull. There is a short spire above its entrance and two taller spires flanked it. The spires looked like spikes stabbing at the sky.

            It was a Friday night and a stream of shuffling junkies wandered the streets. Coyle slowed his car and peered through the darkness. Silver splashes of light spotted the sidewalks. The dealers and junkies slinked in and out of the light and the sound of their chatter wafted through his open windows. Coyle did not see his son among them. All he saw were sunken, shadowed eyes gazing at him as he drove by.

            He turned a corner and craned his neck to look. A tall man stood slumped against a building. He lurched forward with slow steps and slid his right shoulder across the wall. The building held him upright. He leaned to the left and his bright red hair burst out from the darkness. Coyle was sure it was his son.

            "Hey!" Coyle said.

            Coyle saw his head turn towards him. Coyle swerved and parked his car alongside the curb. He jumped out of the car and rushed to meet his son.

            "Alan, it's me, it's your dad."

            Alan swung around. His knees buckled and he crumpled to the pavement. His head dropped and a shiver wracked his body. Coyle knelt at his side.

            "You alright?"

            Alan nodded. "Just got dizzy."

            "Let me help you up."

            Coyle moved behind him and wrapped his arms around Alan's chest. He braced himself with his left foot and heaved Alan to his feet. Alan wavered for a second before his legs straightened. He looked over his shoulder at Coyle and jerked away from him.

            "Dad, huh? What do you want?" His voice was a hoarse slur. He turned around and faced Coyle. He flung his head back and the streetlight revealed his face. Sores pitted his cheeks and his long, knotted hair fell in thick strands like rope. A tattered leather coat two sizes too big covered his body and his jeans were full of holes.

            Coyle frowned and extended his hand towards him. "I want to see you, Alan. Talk to you. That's all."

            Alan swatted his hand away. "I don't see what we got to talk about."
            Coyle sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Lots. I got a lot that I want to say to you."

            Alan leaned towards him. "What? Say it and get out of my face."

            "I'm leaving the life. I'm gettin' out of town tomorrow and I don't think I'm coming back."

            "What do you mean leaving the life?"

            "You know what I mean. No more scores. No more jobs. I'm taking every dime I've got and I'm going to start a new life somewhere else. I can't take the shit anymore."

            Alan laughed. "You? Leave the life? You're fuckin' joking. You eat, live and breathe that shit."

            "Not anymore."

            "I'll believe it when I see it. What's brought this on?"

            "I've fucked up. Real bad. I wasted my whole life knockin' around, running swag, dealing junk, guns, always looking for the next big payday. I lost everything because of it. You too." Coyle's voice cracked and his throat tingled with pain.

            He shoved Coyle in the shoulder. "Where you gonna go? You ain't got nowhere to go, motherfucker."

            Coyle ignored the shove and shrugged. "Maybe I don't. But I have to go." Coyle tried to set his hand on Alan's shoulder, but he leaned away. When he did, he teetered backwards and Coyle grabbed his coat to keep him from falling.

            "Let me get you something to eat. We can sit down and talk."

            "Like a father and son, huh?" He coughed and it caused his body to convulse. "I'm sick. I can't eat a fucking thing."


            "None of your fucking business, man!"

            Coyle raised his hands and waved them back and forth. "Alright, son. Maybe you can have a cup of coffee? You look like you could use one."

            Alan was silent and taking slow, deep breaths. Coyle heard him wheezing. "Fucking fatherly concern. Okay. I'm cold and need to warm up so you can buy me some coffee."

            They climbed into his car and drove away. The pain in Coyle's stomach felt like a slow moving snake crushing his internal organs and twisting into his chest. He trembled as if he were a man lost in a blizzard. Alan stared out the window and did not speak.

            "I saw a place down the street when I was comin' here. We'll go there."

            Alan shrugged and slumped into the seat. The athletic teenager who swung at baseballs with wide-eyed verve had evaporated and a shambling, enraged wraith had taken his place. Coyle had no idea how long his son had been like this. Heroin lulled some into agony and others cracked in two weeks. Alan looked ready to crack.

            "I talked to your grandma. She told me where to find you."

            The mention of his grandma drew him out from his shell. He turned his head and looked at Coyle. He frowned and blinked a few times. "Yeah? I saw her a while back. I was all fucked up."

            "Yeah, she said she was worried about you."

            He frowned and shook his head. "Yeah. I guess she should."

            They were silent for a minute. "How'd this happen, Alan?"

            "What happen?" His slow slur squeezed drama from each word.

            Coyle looked him up and down. "This. Look at you. You're strung out and hooked to the gills. How long you been using?"

            Alan shrugged and gazed out the window. "I don't know. A while."

            "How much you using?"

            Alan snorted. "Whatever I can lay my hands on."

            Coyle turned into the parking lot of a small diner on the corner of 68th and Clark. A convenience store once occupied the building and it was in poor condition. The guttering on the side of the building sagged and the chipped facade was weathered and cracked. Splotches of grime spotted the windows and one of the letters on the diner sign flickered and buzzed. Coyle peered through the window and saw one customer and one waitress.

            They walked inside and sat in a booth. The lights bathed the restaurant interior in a faint yellow glow. There were a row of booths against a wall, two tables, and a short breakfast bar. They sat down at the bar.

            A skinny, middle-aged waitress wearing too much makeup walked over to them. "Can I get you something?"
            "Coffee. Black." Coyle said.

            "I'll have the same."

            The waitress nodded and walked off. She poured two cups of coffee from a stained coffee mug and carried them back. "Anything else?"

            "Nah, that's it." Coyle said.

            The waitress walked off again and Coyle blew on his coffee to cool it down. He took a brief sip and looked at his son. His wide eyes were bulging out of his head and his skeletal face was gargoyle-like and frozen.

            "Your mom's going to get out of prison soon."

            Alan looked at him and lowered his head. "Yeah, grandma said something about that."

            Coyle tapped the rim of his coffee cup. "Maybe you could get off the streets and stay with her. Get off the smack."

            Alan raised his eyebrows and crinkled up his nose. "Are you fuckin' for real? Live with that drunk? No fucking way."

            "It's a warm bed."

            Alan snorted. "I'd rather sleep in an abandoned building."

            They were quiet again. Alan drank his coffee in brief sips. His hands were shaking and coffee splashed over the rim. An old man in the booth behind them swayed and mumbled obscenities. The sound of a police siren filled the diner when a cruiser streaked by.

            "I'm sorry, Alan."

            "Sorry for what?"

            "Everything. I wasn't a good father to you."

            Alan snorted and shook his head. "Little late for that. It doesn't mean anything to me."

            "Won't you give an inch, Alan? I'm trying to set things right. Maybe I can't do a lot, but I can do something." His strained voice bordered on the shrill.

            Alan looked him in the eyes. "You want me to give you an inch? You go ahead and take off. Maybe you'll find someone who'll give a fuck. But it ain't me." He smirked. "You probably got some whore you're taking with you. Probably got her paying for everything."

            "Wrong. I ripped off the Italians for seven figures. I got some shit I have to do before I go, but I'm out of here by noon tomorrow." Coyle did not mention the heroin in his trunk. Coyle did not mention the men he had killed tonight.

            Alan arched his eyebrows. "Seven figures? You're fucking crazy."

            Coyle sighed and gulped down the last of his coffee. "Yeah. That's what I'm thinking."

            Alan finished drinking his coffee and stood. "Well, I gotta go. I've got a guy to go see."

            Coyle turned and gripped his son's arm. "Go? We just got here. Sit down, warm up, talk to me. I got stuff I want to say."

            "Nah. Not interested. Thanks for the coffee." Alan yanked his arm out of Coyle's grasp and started walking towards the door.

            "Alan, come see me before noon tomorrow. I'm at the Economy Motel, just north of Empire Bridge. Room 20."

            Alan stopped and looked at him. His mouth curled into a small smile. Coyle saw the boy he knew in that smile. His son turned again and walked out the door. Coyle watched him until he turned the corner and disappeared.

            Coyle turned and sat on his stool. He did not think he would see his son again. He believed Alan would be dead within the year. Someone would find him rotting in a vacant building, a yellowing needle still dangling from his withered arm. Or maybe he would die surrounded by junkies in a humid, smoke-soaked apartment. He would spike his vein with the needle, his head would roll like a chunk of lettuce circling a drain, and he would smile. It was the same smile that he had as a child beaming on Christmas morning. The warm silken charge that swept over his body would turn to ice and cause the smile to vanish. His body would stiffen and his eyes would spin into the back of his head. He would slump to the floor and the other junkies would watch the bubbling cloud of spit leaking from his mouth. They would watch the short, violent thrashing of his body. When the thrashing stopped and Alan was dead, they would say nothing, scrounge through his pockets, and leave his blue, bloating body alone. Coyle could see it in his mind. It was as real and clear as the stool he sat on or the coffee cup in front of him.

            There was nothing left to do but go on. He had fifty pounds of heroin to sell. He pulled his cell phone from his shirt pocket and punched in a number. Someone answered by the second ring.

            "Yeah?" The man's gruff voice was loud and choked with scratches.

            "Need to talk to Malloy. Tell him it's Coyle and it's important."

            The man grunted and dropped the phone. Eddie Malloy was a year older than Coyle and they had known each other since Kindergarten. Their families lived within a block of each other and both boys hooked up with the Italians in their early twenties. They did everything. They sold stolen goods and drugs, pulled robberies and burglaries, hijacking, and murder. Now he was based out of the west side of the city running a crew of Irish street guys selling cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. His suppliers were the Italians and Coyle wagered that Malloy would relish the chance to fuck them over.

            "Coyle, you motherfucking Irish prick, this better be good. I'm givin' up a piece of ass for your shit." Despite being third generation Irish, Malloy had a thick accent and spoke fast.

            "Fifty pounds of guinea skag for fifty large. You got time for that?"

            Malloy was quiet for a few seconds. "You're full of shit. You drunk?"

            "No bullshit."

            "Okay, I'll play along. What's the catch?"

            "I boosted it from a warehouse on the south side."

            Malloy erupted with laughter. "Crazy motherfucker. I hadn't heard that yet. You are a marked fucking man, old buddy. You lookin' to kill yourself? Suicide by wop?"

            "No, man. I'm looking to get out. The money I make from this will set me up somewhere else."

            Malloy chuckled. "You're going to find a new life? You can't lie to me, motherfucker. I grew up with you. I was there when you got your first piece of ass. I pulled jobs with you. Me and you both know this life's in your blood."

            "Yeah and that's why I don't have a life. Because I'm ate up with always looking for the next score." Coyle sighed. "You interested or not, Eddie?"

            "I don't know, man, taking that off you could cause a man all kinds of problems."

            Coyle felt his anger flare to life. "Listen, man, if you aren't fucking interested..."

            "Slow down, Cecil. I'm interested. Where you at?"

            "On the north side. Headed east."

            "You wanna do this now?"

            "Yeah, the sooner, the better."

            "Okay, come out. You know where, right?"


            "See you soon."

            Coyle turned left and started driving east. Malloy spent his time at an east side bar called Player's Inn. Coyle planned to go there, do the deal quick, and drive back to the north side. It was four thirty in the morning. The sun would be rising soon and he wanted to sleep for a few hours before he left the city. He needed the rest. Once he reached the Interstate, he would not be stopping again for a long time.

            His thoughts about Alan would not stop. He had wanted to say so much to him, to erase the distance between them and plead for his love and forgiveness, but his words did not span the gulf separating them. Alan wanted nothing to do with it. When Coyle recalled his son's words and his hair-raising glares soaked in disdain, he felt resentment wash over his regret. Coyle wanted him to love and forgive him. He even entertained the notion that his son might smile when he heard that Coyle was taking off and want to leave with him. Coyle regretted so much and wanted to make things right and you're supposed to forgive people when they want to make things right. Alan did not care that he wanted to set things right. His son did not forgive him, did not love him, and it was not fair.

            The buzz from the ephedrine pills he was taking caused the city lights to throb. They were sparkling silver and yellow holes bore into the dark buildings he passed. They were gaping, glittering mouths that swallowed whoever came near. He swept by gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores, and apartments. It was almost five in the morning and people still wandered the streets. Coyle rolled past a man pushing a metal shopping cart. The shopping cart was packed with clothes. The man wore leopard-print tights and a purple shirt. His blonde hair spiked out everywhere and was soaked with blood. Coyle thought he looked like a clown in the silver and yellow lights.

            The Player's Inn was downstairs from a ground floor pawnshop. Irish families had once blanketed the neighborhood, but it was now a stew of third and fourth generation Irish living alongside black and Italian families. There were dozens of vacant houses and buildings strewn throughout the area. The pawnshop had a barred door blocking the entrance and steel shutters pulled over its lone window. Four concrete steps led down to the bar's entrance.

            Coyle parked along the street, took a duffle bag from the trunk, and walked inside. The bar was small and reeked of mold. The wooden floor was warped and creaked. A long bar started near the door and spanned the right side of the room. A pool table dominated the left side of the room and the sound of The Rolling Stones song "Jumpin' Jack Flash" caused the room to shake.

            An acne-scarred kid dropped his stick on the pool table and walked towards Coyle. "Who the fuck are you?"

            Coyle took one-step towards him. "Tell Malloy that Coyle is here."

            The acne-scarred kid lowered his shoulders and looked back to an older, redheaded man behind him. The redhead nodded and the kid walked back to the pool table. The redhead walked up to Coyle.

            "Sit at the bar, Coyle. I'll let Eddie know you're here." he said.

            Coyle nodded and sat down. Two men sat next to him. Coyle did not recognize them and they ignored him. They were downing shots of bourbon from a quart bottle sitting on the bar. They were shouting at each other about the split on a cocaine deal. The acne-scarred kid and a thin, middle-aged man played pool and traded barbs about a hooker the kid had fucked. The hooker laid a dose of chlamydia on the kid and his misfortune had the older man cackling.

            Coyle knew that Malloy would buy it all. This was it. He would sell the last of the smack, get some sleep, and get the hell out. This was the end. This was the final deal in a life of deals. He would have a new life by this time tomorrow and spending his time in smoke-soaked caves like this would be a thing of the past. He would aim higher.

            A door opened in the rear of the bar and Mallory stepped out. He was once thin, blonde, and had sharp features, a firm jaw line, and a long neck. He was forty-six years old now and he had put on a hundred pounds. He had lost the hair on top of his head and what was left turned white. His sharp features had splattered and his skin sagged around his cheeks. His long neck was now compressed. He waved at Coyle to come into the office.

            The office was larger than Coyle expected. There was a oak wet bar on one side of the room, a large steel desk in the center of the room, and two long rows of fluorescent lights hanging from a drop ceiling above. There were a number of chairs and a leather couch sitting against a wall. The redhead who had let Malloy know Coyle was here sat on the couch with a bearded man. Malloy had his feet propped up on the desk.

            "Sit, man. You need a drink?" Malloy said.

            "No, thanks. Really just looking to get this shit done and get some rest. Been going for a long time now."

            "I'll bet you've been in a hurry to unload it." Malloy chuckled. "Gotta say, it's a nice way to fuck those motherfuckers. You wanna hurt a wiseguy, you hit him in the pocketbook. Makes 'em look bad."

            Coyle smiled. "I figured you'd approve. I don't owe those fuckers a thing. If anything, they owe me big."

            Malloy looked at the bearded man. "Go get fifty thousand. Make it quick."

            The bearded man nodded and left the room. Malloy stood and walked to the wet bar. He poured whiskey into a glass and slurped it down.

            "Still don't want a drink?" Malloy said.

            Coyle shook his head. "No, man. Just business."

            Malloy smirked and sat back down. "Man, what's happened to you? Hearing you talk about giving up the life is fucking surreal. You always lived and breathed this shit. I've never known a guy so into being a gangster."

            Coyle shrugged and looked at the floor. "Things change, Eddie. People too."

            Malloy looked at the redhead on the couch and gestured towards Coyle. "Let me tell you about this motherfucker, Mikey. I've known this guy since we were snot-nosed punks busting into change machines and selling ditch weed in elementary school. Anyway, we both started workin' for the Italians when I was seventeen and this fucker was sixteen. Some old Guido tells him to do a pickup from a pizza parlor near the bay. Well, Coyle goes over there, but the old guy, he don't wanna pay. Maybe he thought he could punk a kid out. Who knows? Anyway, the old man tells him to get the fuck out of his place and shoves him out the door. What's Coyle do? This hothead motherfucker grabs a steel bar off a truck parked outside, goes back in that parlor and beats this old fucker half to death." Malloy laughed.

            The redhead whistled. "Wish we had young guys like that. That's what I call problem solving."

            "How long ago was that, Cecil?"

            "Fucked if I know. Long time ago."

            Coyle remembered the old man. He took a deep breath and could smell the sweet yeast and the salty meat. The building was humid and a slithering layer of sweat covered Coyle. He remembered how his shirt slid across his skin with every swing. The old man grunted and gasped when the steel crashed into his head, arms, and ribs. If the old man thought he could get away with pushing him around, Coyle would show him that was a mistake. His rage was a jagged black ball hooked into his throat that wouldn't let him breathe. He slammed the steel bar into the old man thirty times. He remembered that when his body relaxed and the black ball sunk into his stomach, a hot flush of satisfaction surged across his skin. He threw the bar down on the floor, cleaned out the cash register, and left the old man bleeding. Coyle remembered the old man mumbling for help through shattered teeth.

            The bearded man walked back into the room and sat two thick envelopes down in front of Malloy. Malloy nodded at him and the bearded man sat down. Malloy peered into each envelope and nodded again.

            "Fifty thousand. Toss me that duffle bag." he said.

            Coyle tossed the duffle bag across the desk. Malloy unzipped the bag and pulled both bundles. He opened a drawer and pulled out a digital scale. He sat the bundles on the scale and looked at the display screen.

            "Fifty pounds on the dot."

            Malloy shoved the envelopes across the desk towards Coyle. Coyle scooped up the envelopes and stuffed them into his jacket pocket. He stood and turned towards the door.

            "Leaving so soon? Don't you want to count your money?" Malloy said.

            Coyle stepped towards the door. He started to answer Malloy when the bearded man stepped in front of him and blocked his way to the door. Coyle sighed and turned around to face Malloy.

            "Really, Eddie? Really?"

            Malloy shrugged and a thin smile creased his face. "You know me, man. I see a good deal... I gotta ask myself, how can I make the deal even better for me? Fifty pounds of high grade smack for free is a pretty damn good deal."

            It wouldn't matter what Coyle did. If he handed over the cash, they would try to kill him. If he didn't, they would try to kill him. Malloy was not going to take his money, keep the heroin, pat Coyle on the back, and wish him well. He could not have Coyle free to tell people that he was sitting on fifty pounds of mob heroin. It didn't matter what Coyle said or did. They were going to kill him in this room.

            They made one mistake. No one had patted him down. Coyle knew he had bullets in his gun. The guy he killed in the parking lot earlier had reloaded just before Coyle hit him. He needed time to pull the gun though. He would have one chance.

            Coyle whipped around and punched the bearded man in the mouth. He slumped against the door and sank to the floor. Coyle reached into his waistband and pulled out the gun. Everything slowed down. Coyle saw the redhead scrambling to his feet and reaching for something behind his back. He shot the redhead twice in the face and the impact knocked him back onto the couch.

            Malloy tackled him and both men tumbled onto the dead bearded man. Coyle lost his grip on the gun and, when he lunged for it, Malloy drove his elbow into the crook of Coyle's arm. He screamed and pushed Malloy off him. Coyle heard loud shouting from the other side of the door. The door was locked and blocked by the body of the dead man. While Malloy was larger and stronger than Coyle, Coyle was quicker. He jumped to his feet and saw Malloy down on his knees. He kicked Malloy hard in the head and sent him crashing into the desk. He kept kicking him until Malloy quit moving.

            The pounding on the door had not stopped. The room was quiet. Coyle paused for a second before he rushed around the other side of the desk. He ransacked the drawers looking for another gun. He found a nine millimeter with a full clip. He went over to the dead redhead and turned his body over. Coyle took a .38 revolver from his waistband. It was loaded.

            There was no choice but to shoot his way out. He didn't care about the heroin anymore. There were a thousand reasons why he was standing here and the heroin was one of them. He was done with it. He just wanted to have a life for the first time in his life. He just wanted to live, at last.

            He stood in front of the door. He saw four men when he came in the bar. There were two men playing pool and the two he had seen at the bar. He began firing at where the knocks were loudest. The bullets bore wide holes in the door and Coyle heard grunting from the other side. Someone started shooting and Coyle dived over the desk. He used the desk as cover and fired back.

            The room was silent. The pounding on the door and gunshots alike had stopped. Coyle stood and crept towards the door with both guns at his side. He heard Malloy stirring on the floor and drove his foot hard into the back of Malloy's head. His head thudded into the floor and he quit moving. Coyle pushed the dead bearded man out of the way and unlocked the door.

            When he opened the door, he saw the acne-scarred kid sprawled on the floor. There were three bullet wounds in his chest. His pool-playing partner was in a heap a few feet away. He had taken two bullets to the head that mangled his face. The two men that Coyle had seen at the bar were gone.

            Coyle thought about walking back into the office and putting a bullet in Malloy's head. His hands were shaking and sweat covered his face. He stood between two men he had just killed. There were two more in the office. Malloy deserved to die along with them. If it had been four hours ago, Malloy would have died. Coyle would have stomped back into the office and shot him in the head.

            That was four hours ago though. That was before he saw his son. It was before he killed four more people. After his son, after ending the lives of these four men, Coyle could not bring himself to kill again. He could not walk into the office, shoot Malloy, snatch the heroin off the desk, and go looking for another buyer. He would have four hours earlier. Now he knew he was done. He was done with selling smack, done with shooting people, done with the city, and done with the life. He had to save himself. He wanted to go.

            Coyle left the bar. He wept while he drove, but laughter came with the tears. Cecil Coyle kills four guys, leaves one alive, and says fuck it to fifty pounds of top shelf dope on the table. No one would believe it. He didn't care what anyone believed. He felt weightless and his legs and arms alike tingled. His left arm ached where Malloy hit him with his elbow and he winced whenever he tried to move it. Coyle thought it might be a fracture. The pain did not dim his laughter or tears.

            He fumbled into the dark motel room and collapsed onto the bed. His injured left arm prevented lying on his left side or his stomach so he lay on his back and stared at the dim sunrise strained through the curtains. The field of light that spread over the room was as faint as a fingerprint and speckled clouds of dust drifted through the air. Coyle thought this was the best light. This light swept up the shadows and warmed the land. It bathed the world in color and texture and gave all things their own signature. He felt like the morning light covered and protected him.

            Coyle opened his eyes and heard someone knocking at his door. They were hard knocks that rattled the door and echoed. Coyle frowned and rubbed his eyes. His head hurt.

            He could not move his left arm, so he used his right to roll over and sit on the side of the bed. He grabbed a pistol from the nightstand and took slow steps towards the door. His visitor continued knocking.

            Coyle leaned against the door and listened. "Yeah? Who is it? What do you want?"

            "It's Alan, dad. Can I come in?"

            Coyle heard nothing but his heartbeat. "Really?"

            "Yeah, dad, it's really me. Let me in."

            Coyle sat the gun down on the television behind him and turned the deadbolt. He flung the door open and the afternoon sun blasted into the room. Coyle squinted and stepped backwards.

            He opened his eyes and saw his son standing in the doorway. Two men appeared on each side of Alan and shoved him aside. They rushed into the room.

            Coyle reached for the gun, but one of the men slammed the butt of their pistol into his skull. Coyle crumpled to the floor and one of the men pushed him over with his foot. The other man walked up and kicked him in the mouth. His head snapped back and his mouth filled with blood.

            The motel room door closed. Coyle raised his head to look around and saw four people near him. Two men looked like bodybuilders and wore tank top shirts with sweatpants. Coyle did not recognize either man. His son was backed into a corner and staring at his father. His face was frozen. Coyle knew the fourth man. He was tall and thin. A deep, bleached scar formed a comma on one cheek. Vincent Mirra was a mob captain with twenty guys under him.

            Mirra played with his neck chain and paced the floor. The other two men leaned against the wall. Mirra smirked.

            "Always blows me away when an Irish cocksucker thinks he can get cute. You, though, are the motherfucking king of cute."
            Mirra swung to face Coyle and kicked him in the stomach. The impact lifted Coyle into the air. Mirra nodded at the two men against the wall. They moved towards Coyle and started kicking him. After fifteen seconds, Mirra waved them off. The pain Coyle felt made him dizzy. Faces and forms were a blur. He could hear everything however.

            Mirra crouched down beside Coyle. "You think you can rob us for two hundred pounds of smack, sell it to our people, and get away with it?" His soft voice was full of genuine wonder. "I never liked you, fucker. Just another stupid mick who thinks he's smarter than he is. That's all you are. Your kid doesn't even like you."

            Coyle looked up. His son stood in the corner of the room next to the door. His stiff posture was like an electrocuted man. He looked at his father and did not move.

            "Sold you out for two hundred dollars." Mirra slapped Coyle hard on the back of the head. "Hear that? Two hundred dollars. Nice job you did with this kid, Coyle. He's a real piece of work."

            Mirra's men laughed. Coyle coughed out a knot of blood. He wanted to speak. He wanted to tell his son that he was sorry. He wanted to tell Mirra and his men to fuck off. He wanted to say something, but the words were slurs and gasps. He looked at Mirra. A shaft of light from the window streaked across his face. Coyle dropped his head. If this is how it had to be, okay. He had tried. Coyle had tried to make things right and had tried to start again.

            Mirra pulled out a nine-millimeter pistol and shot Coyle twice in the head. Coyle's face snapped into the floor and his body jerked once. He was out.