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Alejandro's knuckles sprayed backdoor glass across kitchen tile. His fingers twisted red on the doorknob and dead bolt. He maneuvered through the kitchen and down a dark hallway of family-framed walls with his scabbed skin and hair salved over his head in all directions. Stepped into a bedroom where a silhouette sat up from a bed. Alejandro's breath was suffocated by the sudden movement like a large quilt smothering a fire.
      A voice yawned, "You're home early."
      Tasting fear, Alejandro panicked, pointed the 9 mm. His chewed and blackened finger pulled the trigger once. Twice. Shadows fragmented upon the bedroom walls. The silhouette thudded onto the carpet.
      Footsteps drummed like soldiers marching down the hallway behind Alejandro. He turned with the gun raised, his free hand digging into his neck, scratching for a fix. He leveled the 9 mm on the small outline that screamed, "Mom!" Alejandro gritted his teeth and said, "Should not be here." Warmed the child's insides. Silenced his screams.
      Amphetamine hunger pained through Alejandro's brain as he pushed the pistol down the front of the jeans that hung on him like a used painter's cloth, rifled through the dresser  drawers. Socks. Bras. Panties. Nothing of worth. He screamed, "No, no, no!"
      In the closet he found a Beretta .380, stuffed it down the back of his pants. On a chair in the corner he found a purse. Dumped it out onto the carpet. Saw the wallet, kneeled down, opened it. Found a wad of bills. Pay dirt.
      He exited the bedroom to the hallway. Cleared the child whose lungs heaved. Alejandro diminished like a dream.

Detective Mitchell's charred hair matched the bags beneath his vision of flesh gift-wrapping bone. His black tie hung loose from the open neck of the white button-up. The bottle of Jim Beam met his lips. Eroded his guilt.
      "Should've stayed home that night," he mumbled. He'd been catfishing in the late hours of morning down on the Blue River, checking the plastic fishing jugs he'd hidden down in the deeper honey holes, when he heard the crunch of gravel and limbs. Saw the lights firing up the bank and surrounding trees. A truck engine stopped. A door slammed an echo down off the water. And then that familiar voice yelled, "Mitchem?"
      Getting out of the water, tugging on the rope attached to his johnboat. Even without a flashlight the full moon highlighted Sergeant Moon's complexion while his words hollowed Mitchell's being with the news.
      Wife. Son. Shot by a burglar. DOA.
      Though he policed a small town, Mitchell had seen a lot in fifteen years of service. Bodies floating in the Blue River. Domestic disputes where beer-breathed men gave purple abrasions, cracked marrow, and lipstick-red welts to a woman's flesh with their fists. Cars wrapped around trees where bodies were removed with no pulse. And in the past few years everything had become tense. Meth had scourged the land. Made working-class folk less human. More criminal. He'd even busted a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, which nearly cost him his rank for going behind law enforcement's back, doing his own intel without written consent from the higher-ups.
      But at the county hospital, seeing his son laid out like meat in a walk-in freezer, cold innocence removed of character, changed him. Then his wife. His crutch after a homicide, the person who recorded his every word when he spoke of the unsolved thieving or killing of the innocent. She never offered judgment, only listened, gave him space when he needed it most. Now she was gone.
      Mitchell shook his head, taking in the hallway of his home. Two bullets opened the drywall where his son found his end. Dried innards smeared from wall to floor. Mitchell knew State Police Forensics had collected a mess of blood evidence. Ballistics would take a few weeks.
      Entering the bedroom, Mitchell swigged the bottle of bourbon, saw the clothes hanging from dresser drawers. Looked at where his wife had dropped from the bed, soiled the carpet. Forensics would never find who had done this.
      Glancing into the open closet, he noticed the empty shelf, and it came as quick as losing his family. His backup gun was missing.

Alejandro was on all fours, mistaking carpet lint for crystal. Around him, bony-framed men whose faces reeked of malnourishment slept in sleeping bags on the body-soured carpet and matching couch.
      Scuff marks and fist-and foot-sized holes decorated the walls of the shack like second-grade graffiti.
      Alejandro placed a piece of lint over the pin-needle holes on top of the aluminum can he held between middle finger and thumb. His other hand flicked a flame. His mouth huffed on the opening but got nothing.
      His hair was the shade of creosote, melding to his pot-holed face and bored-out eyes. He'd chewed the skin from his lips, creating miniature puddles of blood. Fingernails tracked up and down his arms, which had become like his lips. Sleeping was twitching until his crave jerked his orbs open, raising him from rest in a sweat-bathed shower of self.
      He'd been holed up for a week with a new crop of illegals in the one-bedroom shack. Men with frayed ends and raisin features plastered like the dead on a battlefield across the room. He'd tried sleeping in the day. Smoked his meth while others slept at night. Now the meth was gone, just like the money from the last robbery, of the woman and child he'd shot, though that didn't seem real. The only thing that felt real was firing the chemical and letting that jolt of electricity smoke his mind as he chased that feeling from the first time.
      On the couch Alejandro's hands patted through a man's pockets in search of money. The man blinked his bug-eyed whites awake with horror. He covered Alejandro's left eye with five knuckles. Falling backwards on the carpet, Alejandro pulled the 9 mm from his waist. Pointed it at the man, whose eyes sparked white. Two shots opened his chest.
      The gunfire pierced the surrounding ears and pulled their eyes open. Alejandro didn't quit pulling the trigger until the gun was empty.

It was a long shot, but Mitchell tossed the piece of paper on the counter of Joe's Pawnshop.
      Dressed in a hole-worn Drive-By Truckers T-shirt, Joe blinked his razor-thin eyes and twisted the gnarly hairs of his ungroomed collie beard between index finger and thumb. Mitchell's bourbon breath irritated Joe's face, reminded him of paint-thinner fumes as he picked up the paper.
      "Serial numbers?"
      "For a .380-"
      Joe shook his opal skull, the shaggy braids that went from chin to chest. Cut Mitchell off. "Beretta. Polymer grip. Matte black. Seven rounds plus one in the chamber. I got the fiddle. You got the banjo. We can stomp down some sweet tunes."
      It was no longer a long shot.
      "Who pawned the son of a bitch?"
      Joe glanced up about the wall as though he'd hidden the answer behind a radio or tennis racket and said, "Don't 'member his name."
      Mitchell laid his detective's badge on the counter.
      "White? Black? Asian-"
      "Mexican guy with a tweaker. Mexican was clean-cut. Runs that authentic restaurant up the hill. Usually there from daylight to dark. Got a kick-ass lunch special. Dollar  beers and Margaritas on Thursday nights. Never seen the tweaker before."
      "Where's the gun?"
       Joe turned away. Unlocked a metal cabinet behind him.
      "Shit fire, should've said you's a cop, I got it right here."
      "What about footage?"
      "No smut tapes here, Officer."
      Mitchell wanted a make on the Mexican. Pointed up in the corner behind the counter.
      "Surveillance footage of the guy who sold the gun."
      Laying the gun on the counter, Joe answered in a confused voice, "Yeah, sure. But I done told you it was the Mexican guy from on the hill."
      "I need a positive ID."
      Mitchell picked up the gun. Matched the serial numbers.
      "I'm taking the gun for evidence. Now, show me the footage of the Mexican. I'll need it and today's footage to take with me."
      "Take with you?"
      "Yeah, I was never here so we never had this conversation. These last few minutes have been one big fuckin' blur, got it?"

Alejandro pulled into the small town's pay-by-the-week flop, slop, and drop motel. He stepped from the idling Buick. His complexion was greasy dishwater with eyes floating in fire. His head twitched, shoulders jerked, while his hand went from etching open old wounds to fisting a door dotted by body fluids.
      A chain rattled. A lock clicked. The door cracked open with the television bouncing light and conversation. The smell of hot chemicals boiling in rubbing alcohol wafted behind a single brown eye spiked with blood. The other eye was missing.
      "How much crystal you need?"
      The white chalked-up corners of Alejandro's broken English said, ''Another hundred dollar worth."
      The door closed. Alejandro's hands balled into his sweatshirt pockets. He glanced down the concrete walk. Darkness hummed. Window curtains of connecting rooms parted in the corners. Eyes and noses smudged glass, breathing fogged it, making Alejandro's palms damp.
      The door opened back up, a bit wider than before. One hand held a small brown paper sack. Another hand reached out, open palm, wiggling four fingers minus a thumb. And the raspy chain-smoking voice said, "Cash."
      Alejandro slid his right foot between jamb and door. Pulled the 9 mm from his sweatshirt pocket. Pointed it at the single brown eye. The first shot added more decorations to the door. The body dropped backwards. Alejandro stepped on it. Entered the flop-drop meth factory. A shadow fought movement from the bed. The second and third shots deformed the shadow, let it keep the bed weighted down.
      Alejandro flipped the light switch on the wall. Plastic sandwich bags full of ice crystal covered a metal table next to the bed, beside wrinkled empty sacks. Sweating for a fix, he slid the 9 mm into his waist. Removed his hooded sweatshirt and piled the bags into the body of it. Picked the pockets of the ones he'd paid with bullets. Threw their crumpled bills in with the bags. Tied the sweatshirt into a ball. Picked it up. Ran out to the Buick, already imagining the crystal-line chunks ricocheting behind his eyes as the car turned out onto Highway 62.

Headlights flared off the yellow-and-green concrete building's glass windows. A car door drummed in the parking lot. The brass bell rang above the entrance door, which Gaspar had forgotten to lock. He looked up from cashing out the restaurant's register and a gloved hand introduced his forehead to the butt of a .45-caliber SIG SAUER. His knees went liquid. His mind fogged in and out, feeling the twist of arms behind his back. The clamp and click of metal around his wrists.
      Red warmed the parted flesh above Gaspar's blinking eyes. Metal burrowed into the back of his neck, his face pressed into the still-warm surface of the grill in the kitchen. A handgun filled his view.
      Mitchell's gloved hand tightened around the pistol. "I'll ask you one time. You and some tweaker sold the gun you're looking at to the pawnshop down the hill. Where'd you get the gun?"
      Gaspar took a deep breath. Pondered the blood relation to the man he'd smuggled to America.
      "I'm businessman. Come to America to run business."
      "Sure, the American fuckin' dream."
      Mitchell reached to his left, twisted the knob below the gas burner to high. A blue-orange flame hissed. He slid the Sig down his pants. Clamped both hands into Gaspar's black wad of grease. Slowly pressed his face toward the hiss.
      Like a dog that didn't want to lead, Gaspar's head tried to fight Mitchell's grip. Begged.
      "No! No! Please!"
      "The gun. Where'd you get it?"
      With no answer, the orange hiss heated Mitchell's hand. Warmed his forearm. Gaspar's brown skin curled black like melted plastic. Tears fell and sputtered off the blue heat rimming the orange. Mitchell thought about his wife and son. Pushed Gaspar until he thought his leather gloves would ignite.
      "My brother! My brother!"
      He pulled and turned Gaspar around. Mucus spread like poison ivy from nose to mouth. Tears ticked over the gooey gum-colored boil pushing from the black burn on Gaspar's cheek. Fear flowed hot down his leg. Puddled onto the floor. Mitchell grabbed the stolen gun.
      "This gun you sold, stolen from my house. Your brother, where the fuck is he?"

In the shack, fluorescent lights hugged the loaded needle trespassing in Alejandro's vein. No smoking tonight. He'd more than enough to shoot for days. His thumb pushed the plunger. Endorphins swam and multiplied in his brain. Eyes darted with black pupils hiding the hazel as he pulled the needle from his arm. His tongue ran over eroding teeth and said, "You guys need try. Some good shit."
      He waited for a reply from the bodies that lay scattered and stiff against the walls, dressed with matching bullet holes, scented with the waft of bladders gone slack.
      Some had heads resting on shoulders. Others bent forward, chin into chest. Mouths trapped in a permanent yawn with lips changing to the shade of fruit juice.
      He placed the needle in a glass of water clouded by crystal. On the coffee table, where Ziplocs stuffed with jagged chunks of amphetamine lay like homemade Halloween treats. He loaded another fix as the front door opened. Gaspar limped onto the carpet, his arms behind his back. Blood and bruises disguised his appearance.
      Alejandro barked, "Gaspar!"
      Mitchell's heel stomped the bend behind Gaspar's knee. "Heel, shit bag!"
      Enraged, Alejandro jumped up deuce-eyed. Stormed Mitchell with the loaded needle in hand.
      Mitchell raised his .45, squeezed the trigger, cubed meat from Alejandro's chest.
      On a full-blown meth rush Alejandro gritted his stalactite teeth, smothered Mitchell into a wall. Grabbed for the gun with his free hand. Stabbed the needle into Mitchell's jugular with his other. "Fuck!" Mitchell hollered. Alejandro thumbed the plunger. Liquid roared a surge of strength through Mitchell's veins. He pushed the .45 toward Alejandro, the barrel over his foot. Squeezed the trigger. Separated the toes of Alejandro's foot. Alejandro fell backwards. Mitchell leveled the .45, felt the rush of amphetamines ignite his bloodstream, took in the blanched eyes and finger carvings that shaped Alejandro's face, then he removed it. Pulled the needle from his neck. Turned and lowered the .45 on Gaspar, who lay screaming on the floor like the amphetamine twitch behind Mitchell's dilating eyes.
      He glanced at the dead in the room, their frames beginning to bloat, the smell full-on rot bordering on decay. Pointing the pistol at Gaspar, who was filling Mitchell's ears with everything but English, Mitchell shook his head, said, "No."
      Sacks of crystal lay across the coffee table, a needle loaded with the water matrix of an amphetamine rush. Mitchell pulled the needle from the table, smiled, and said to Gaspar, "Yeah, this'll fix your illegal smugglin' ass."

In his car, Mitchell's face calmed, the amphetamines bringing a peace within his mind, a high unlike booze, and his life felt almost calm in the tsunami rush. His ache of loss had been quarantined, for a bit. Gaspar's screams lined his brain, barking as Mitchell had driven the needle into his arm, emptied it into his vein. Refilled it and emptied it again, until Gaspar's eyes were bright white gumballs in his sockets. Mitchell shifted his vehicle into drive, glanced at the bags filled with what looked like broken glass on the seat beside him, knowing he could chase this stiffening jolt of endorphins for a couple days and forget who he was, but never what he'd lost.

© Frank Bill

This electronic version of “Amphetamine Twitch” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author and publisher. It appears in the short-story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.  Book ordering available through and

The Barcelona Review is a registered non-profit organization

Author Bio

Frank BillFrank Bill has been published in Granta, Playboy, Oxford American, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, PANK, FSG Work in Progress, New Haven Review, Talking River Review, Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp and many
other outlets. His first book, Crimes in Southern Indiana was released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in September 2011 and his first novel, Donnybrook, hit March of 2013. He is agented by Stacia Decker of Donald Maas Literary Agency.