THE APPRENTICE • by Milton T. Burton

Normally, Sam McCord’s diet was healthy. But about once a month he came down to an old fashioned cafe he loved on Elm street and had himself a lumberjack breakfast–sausage, bacon, three eggs over medium, hash browns, biscuits and creamy gravy. This monthly meal was one of the high points of his life, but on that particular Friday the experience was being ruined by a young man at the next table who was whining to a pretty young woman about his ex-wife and a custody problem with their kid.

Sam reflected that the meal didn’t have to be a complete loss. He could always salvage things by following the fellow to his car, getting the license number, tracking him down, and then putting a bullet in his brain at a later date. But there were two problems with this approach. In the first place, Sam only killed people for being grossly rude and abrasive. It was his hobby, and he specialized in government bureaucrats. He’d never whacked a straight citizen, and certainly not for whining, annoying though such behavior was. And he was reasonably sure he didn’t want to start now because there were far more whiners in the world than truly rude people. Which meant that killing them could turn into a never-ending quest. And secondly, Sam had set out to be a whacker of the rude, and the notion of morphing into a whiner-whacker violated his sense of aesthetic purity. So he picked up his plate, turned around, and joined the couple. “Sam MacCord,” he said, sticking out his hand.

The boy was taken aback by the intrusion, but he didn’t lose his poise. “Thomas Treen, Mr. MacCord. Most people call me Tommy.”

Good manners, Sam noted. Grace under pressure. He took an instant liking to Tommy Treen. “Tell me your problem, Tommy.”


“I couldn’t help but hear that it had something to do with your ex-wife and your daughter. Run it down to me. I think I can help.”

The kid shrugged and told Sam how, while he was on duty with the National Guard in Iraq, his wife had divorced him and married a hotshot North Dallas real estate developer, a former pro running back who was worth several million dollars. Tommy and his ex-wife had a child, a little girl five years old, who was in remission from leukemia. Tommy was nuts about his daughter, but the wife, for reasons clear only to herself, frequently refused to let Tommy exercise his visiting rights, and had recently filed to get sole custody. Of course, the ex-wife had a monster of a lawyer, while Tommy, who was struggling to get his accounting practice going, could barely afford one of the storefront shysters who infested the decaying old buildings on the east end of town.

“Give me her name,” Sam said. “And her current husband’s, too. I’ll take care of it for you.”

“How do you think you can–” Tommy Treen began. Then he noticed just how cold and serious Sam MacCord’s pale blue eyes really were, and he made a snap decision. He scribbled the names on a page he tore from his little pocket notebook and passed it across the table with a strange sense of relief. Sam smiled and they finished their breakfast in near silence.

Two days later the ex-running back called to tell Tommy that the suit had been dropped, and that he could see his little girl just about any old time he wanted to.

A month later Sam was in the old Elm Street cafe when Tommy Treen sat down at his table and thanked him profusely.

“Glad to help, Tommy.”

“I did some research on you, too, Mr. MacCord,” Tommy said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Sam shrugged.

“At present, you own one of the best sports books in Dallas, but you used to run with a bunch of really bad-ass Southern hijackers the newspapers called the Dixie Mafia. You were the main suspect in three contract murders, all hoodlums. Each one was done in with a single .22 caliber hollow point bullet in the center of the forehead. Then I recalled that at least a dozen random individuals have been killed in exactly the same way in the last five years here in Dallas. All were bureaucrats and minor government functionaries, and all of whom had one thing in common besides the way they were killed. Know what that was?”

“You tell me,” Sam said, his voice grown suddenly hard.
“According to the police, they all were known for being rude and high-handed with the public.”

“Your point being?”

“Don’t misunderstand, Mr. MacCord. I don’t want to rat you out. Or blackmail you. Hell, I’m in your debt.”

“Then what?”

“I want to work with you. I want you to show me how to set up the hits. How to do things so I won’t get caught. It’s a good cause, Mr. MacCord. Maybe the best one there is, and I want to be your apprentice.”

“Kid, you don’t have the–”

“Oh, but I do have it,” Tommy said with an intensity that made Sam believe him. “Iraq, remember? Been there, done that.”

That’s when Sam noticed that the kid’s eyes were almost as cold and freaky as his own. Just like me when I was young, Sam thought. Ice in the eyes and fire in the belly. For the first time in his life, Sam MacCord felt a surge of fatherly affection, and made a snap decision of his own. He smiled and reached across the table and said, “Maybe you should call me Sam from here on out, Tommy.”

As they shook hands, two pairs of icy blue eyes locked above warm, happy faces.

Milton T. Burton is a Texas native, former college teacher, cattleman, and political consultant. He is the author of two published crime novels, The Rogues’ Game & The Sweet and The Dead, St. Martin’s Press. A third, The Devil’s Own Odds, will be released in June of 2009.

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