The Final Shot by Bruce Costello

A car salesman has flashbacks to a more harrowing - and exciting - time of his life; by Bruce Costello.

"Bluetooth connectivity, greatest thing for motor cars since they rounded the wheel!" cried the vehicle sales manager with a jaunty side step, waving his arms in front of the assembled sales team, his blue corporate tie swinging against his white shirt.

Johnson sat clicking his pen and gazing into space, thinking of an old woman's twisted body and exposed white arse, grotesquely close to her bloodied face, with its drawn-back lips and yellow teeth, grinning in death.

"And Bluetooth protocol's now standard across our entire SUV range!" the sales manager continued. "Fellas, you gotta get out there and win our customers over... are you listening, Johnson? Get your mind on the job! You're gonna have to shape up or ship out!"

"Sorry, Boss." Bastard.

After the meeting, Johnson sat in the sales office, the glossy brochure for the new SLX open on his desk. A movement caught his eye from the building across the street. A man in dark overalls had appeared on the roof, wielding a jackhammer, which opened up with a loud ratatatat, raucous against the soothing mumble of the traffic from the street below.

Another flashback ambushed Johnson's mind.

An almighty explosion and the vehicle they were escorting vanished in a cloud of smoke and flame. Small arms fire followed from a flat-roofed building.

O'Riley at the next desk turned to stare at Johnson.

"Shit, the boss sure gave you a good bollocking. Feel pretty crap, huh?"

Johnson looked away.

"Do you wanna go for a drink after work?" O'Riley asked.

"Nuh, Sheila'd go apeshit," Johnson said. "How about you come round to our apartment on your way home?"


Johnson and O'Riley sat across from each other in the lounge, drinking beer and smoking. They had taken off their suit jackets, thrown them over the back of a floral chair, and loosened their ties.

Johnson's face was animated as he spoke, his eyes towards the ceiling. O'Riley, a younger man with slicked, dark hair, was staring at him, wide-eyed.

"Every night I went to bed sweating bullets because I knew the next day I'd have to escort someone into a dangerous neighbourhood," Johnson was saying, "and it's me and another guy protecting someone and I'm scared to death."

He paused and looked at O'Riley.

"But the thing is, it was worthwhile work, carrying out operations the military wouldn't do, guarding contractors doing useful stuff like setting up medical clinics, rebuilding schools, filling pot holes, moving rubble, restoring power and water."

Johnson fell silent, his hands shaking. Then he murmured, "It was the sort of job where you pick up an engineer from an airport and within minutes you're in a gun battle. Bullets whizzing everywhere."

"Wow," said O'Riley.

"There's no medals for private security guards when they come home," Johnson continued, wiping a trickle of sweat from his temple. "None... but out there we made a difference. I stay in touch with my buddies who're still deployed. Every day they're part of something that matters, while I rot behind a desk or sell SUVs to old biddies who can hardly see over the steering wheel. And I've got to answer to a jerk in a suit who wouldn't know shit from sand."

Johnson stood and began to pace the room, his hands behind his back. He perched on the arm of a chair, close to O'Riley, staring at the floor.

His voice began to quiver.

"When the boss balled me out in front of you guys today, I could've shot the prick. Thank God, Sheila's persuaded me to leave my gun at home."

"Good for her," said O'Riley.

The door opened and Sheila entered the room, a small woman with tousled blonde hair and a tight red top.

"Oh, hi Jason," she said to O'Riley. "Nice to see you again. Do you know, my husband wants to go back to Iraq to get himself killed! Why do you men have to go off to war?"

"Sheila!" said Johnson.

"And why is it," she continued, "that when we're driving anywhere, if we come to a bridge, he either slows down and crawls over or he speeds up and races across like a maniac?"


"I'd better be going," said O'Riley, starting to rise, but sat back in his chair as Sheila spun on her heels and ran from the room.

"Stay," said Johnson, turning to O'Riley. "Take my advice, buddy. Never marry."

"How can you say that?"

"Because I'm married to a beautiful woman who loves me dearly but she's a bloody millstone around my neck."

He slumped back into his chair and crossed his feet.

"If you've gotta marry, wait until you're old, when you've done everything you wanna do."

His fingers tapped against the arm of the chair and he blinked rapidly.

Sheila's scream when he left for work the following morning with his gun in his pocket was shrill on his mind as he sped through the traffic.

On the approach to the harbour bridge, he slowed, then braked and stopped in the middle of the lane. The cars behind him screeched to a halt. Rubber burned. Horns blared. Angry faces shrieked obscenities and one man got out of his car with a baseball bat.

Johnson sat crouched in his SUV, clutching his cellphone, sweat dripping from his face, until a patrol car arrived and two officers attempted to pull him from the vehicle.

Johnson shot one officer in the left eye before the other officer blew his head off.


  1. PTSD. I wanted to say something here that delivered a powerful and emotional message on how we send our young men and women off to wars in the name of honor, patriotism, or some form of twisted justice, only to bring them back and toss them aside, their minds, hearts, their very lives never again to be the same. But I got nothing. The story carries the tune well, speaks the message that we'll soon forget when our oil or religion are threatened in some far off land. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks, Jim. I'm glad the story has meaning for you.

  2. I really enjoyed this. As a prior infantry Marine I can definitely relate to what Johnson is going through. Since getting out life hasn't been as fulfilling or exciting. We hate it while we're there, but when we get out we almost long for it. Good job, hope to see more.

    1. Hi Dan. Thanks for that. I feel for you guys and what you went through. Pleased you enjoyed it.

  3. Painful story, but important one to tell. I think those are the most important ones to tell. Made me think of "Soldier's Joy" by Tobias Wolff when the character Hooper talks about why some vets longed to be back in Vietnam. Wolff wrote: "Everything was clear," he said. "You learned what you had to know and you forgot the rest. All this chickenshit. This clutter. You didn't spend every living minute of the day thinking about your own sorry-ass little self. Am I getting laid enough. What's wrong with my kid. Should I insulate the fucking house. That's what does it to you, Porchoff. Thinking about yourself. That's what kills you in the end." Great job conveying an important subject.

  4. Thanks Charlie. I'm grateful to Fiction on the Web for accepting this story....not every publication is willing to publish material from the painful side of life.