Contributor: Gary Clifton

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Rain splattered the sidewalk fronting Red's Discount Palace in evening darkness. A sign inside the front glass promised "a gift for every child from Dave the Magician".
Inside, along a jewelry counter, a small crowd of adults and children watched Dave in a gaudy clown costume sitting on a raised platform. Slender, laconic, with oddly distant eyes beneath the paint, he performed magic gags. A jagged scar, poorly disguised by the makeup, ran from his left eye to disappear beneath his ear.
Ritzy, a leggy redhead assistant in skimpy shorts and large red-rimmed glasses, filled balloons. Dave's cellular rang. He eyed the display, put it back in his pocket.
Ritzy boosted a little boy onto Dave's lap. "Damn Dave, I hate this place. Maybe a Margarita when we close?" Her accent was hillbilly. Dave's cold eyes said no but he didn't speak. He rubbed his forehead, apparently working on a headache. He ignored the cellular ringing.
Two men in hoodies, one in a Mickey Mouse mask, the second a Goofy face, burst in waving pistols. "Everybody on the floor. This is a stickup." Mickey fired a shot into the ceiling. People screamed and scattered. Both intruders turned to the jewelry counter, backs to Dave.
Dave casually picked up a metal chair and splattered Goofy's head like a burst pumpkin, brains spewing. Mickey whirled. Dave slapped the pistol out of his hand. Mickey followed with a knife thrust. Dave parried the blade, then caught Mickey a crushing forearm across the lower jaw, the sounds of bone snapping vivid. As the man fell, Dave snapped his neck. Mickey fell dead atop Goofy.
"The clown's a damned monster," a mother ran for the door, slipping on blood and gore in the walkway.
"Jesus," Ritzy, aroused, breathed. "You tore them two guys a new ass in three seconds."
The manager rushed up, horrified. ""Dave, what have you...?"
Dave turned to the manager, eyes still distant, hostile.
"Man, it's okay. Don't hurt me." The manager edged backward.
"Dave, your arm," Ritzy gasped. Blood dripped on the floor. Mickey's knife had found flesh. Dave pulled up his sleeve. The wound was superficial.
"Ritzy will help you get to a hospital. I'll explain to the cops," the manager stammered.
"Hospital...Cops?" Dave's strange eyes showed concern.
A towel wrapped around his forearm, Dave drove his pickup in the rain, Ritzy riding shotgun. His cellular phone rang. The message read "Voice". He didn't answer. The cellular rang twice again in seconds. Dave pulled over and dialed a long series of numbers. "Leave me alone," he said softly into the phone. Then, "All right."
Dave swung the pickup into a parking lot, ordered Ritzy to stay in the truck and approached a parked SUV. He slid into the backseat behind two men in front. "Hello, Dave. Remember me?" one said.
Dave didn't speak.
"I'm Voice," the older man, flaccid, pale, with rodent eyes turned back in the passenger seat. The husky, younger man driving was silent. "You were hard to find...musta managed to remove your chip." Voice leaned slightly further back as if to inspect Dave's neck, then glanced at the towel on his arm without comment.
Dave massaged his forehead.
"The antidote, didn't reverse the programming. The whole Chain Guard has the same headaches. Some have gone rogue, some apeshsit. We've reinstated you, effective last month."
"Chain Guard...yeah, Chain Guard," Dave rubbed his forehead. "The details are...fuzzy. My God, my name is..."
"We know your name," Voice shot a glance around. "Dave will do." He punched a button on his iphone. The chord from ...a bicycle built for two, played several times.
The tune visibly impacted Dave. His hard eyes intensified even further. "Jesus, Chain Guard...South American drug dealers...we were...killing people. Hey, I'm processed off that system...discharged."
"Discharged? You just canceled two men for Christ's sake. We'll clean up that mess you left in the store back there with the local cops...move your stuff outta the motel."
"If you sent those two humps I just killed," Dave leaned forward, inches from Voice's face.
"Cancel, not kill, Dave. We protect the Chain of Command. You're on record for 47 cancellations...all confirmed and archived. Plus two incidentals back at Red's. We need you back in play." Voice showed a thin smile. "And those two amateurs weren't ours."
"No chance...finished," Dave tweaked his forehead.
"Dave, High and Mighty found you," he pointed upward at the satellite, "...through your sister. We'll find you again."
Dave laid both hands on the seatback. The odd eyes were pure death as he said quietly: "Even mention my sister and your two clowns are statistics on your scoreboard. And that hillbilly chick in my truck knows nothing. She's just a dumb..."
"Dave, Dave," Voice said softly. "You know we wouldn't hurt your sister...and Ritzy, Jesus man, do you realize how hard it was to teach a Harvard girl that accent." He tossed the iphone on the dash.
"She's one us, Dave."
Dave looked intently at the two clandestine operators. Through the headache, he was seized with a fleeting vision of bloody, torn men...then of insects stuck on flypaper on the ceiling of old Mr. Nelson's drugstore long ago. Was this the sum-total of his life...trapped on flypaper...a killing machine?
Massaging his forehead, he stared at the back of the two bureaucrats' heads. His eyes focused. The headache drifted softly into memory. He stiffened.
"Welcome home, Dave, You're ours again." Voice said. "Early flight to Ecuador tomorrow. Ritzy has the tickets...and a sack of cash."
Dave reached up and snapped voice's neck - he was dead before the driver could react. Dave's grip on the driver's throat was fatal in seconds. The headache was gone, completely. "Home...ours?" Dave questioned softly. "You think?"
Dave hurried to his pickup and slid in beside Ritzy. "Could you handle retirement to Ecuador, Ritz?
"And do what?" she smiled.
"A hut in the jungle...all the Margaritas you can handle." He was least for now. Flypaper didn't always stick.

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Gary Clifton, forty years a cop has over thirty short fiction pieces published or pending with online sites. He has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.
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