"The start doesn't always dictate the end, but the end is certain, nonetheless."

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Yeah, that's me stretched out on the coroner's slab, waiting for the final knife. They haven't even closed my eyes, yet. I thought they always did that, you know, after last rites and what not. The reality is different from the dream, however, so my dulled eyes stare stupidly at the ceiling. My mouth gapes slightly open and my lips part in a lack wit grimace. That bullet hole in the center of my forehead lends me an exotic appearance; Hindi, I think.

I guess I should have handed my wallet over faster. When he said he'd shoot, I believed him, you know, but I never believed it would really happen. At least it was quick.

If you knew me from before, when I was kid, you probably wouldn't be surprised to see me end up this way. They all said I had it coming, that I was hell bent and prison bound. Maybe I was, I don't know any more. At the time, I thought I was just a kid, trying to grow up the best I could. Looking back on it from the cold room of the morgue, however, I'm amazed that I survived my youth, at all.

I was fourteen when my father died, and you know how a young man needs a father's stern hand. In his absence, my mother seemed to forget all about me and my brother and sister. In the aftermath of the unexpected funeral and wake, she quickly found a new love in zinfandel and vicodin. In the months that followed, we rarely saw her, and, when we did, she would invariably be wallowing in a drunken rage or drug-induced numbness. The insurance money kept her comfortable in this regard, but it rarely fed us well or sent us to school with new clothes.

Worse than mere physical neglect, her household discipline became a bizarrely schizoid expression of a fogged mind. Unreasonably angered one moment, and sordidly maudlin the next, we all three soon learned to simply ignore her. My sister left home at fourteen, and never came back. My brother…

…well, now my brother is another subject, entirely, and I see now how the end of his story was the beginning of a second chance for me. Without the sacrifice of his young body so long passed, I should certainly have been laid upon this frigid, sterile table many years ago. That being the case, the bullet hole in my head might have been better deserved than it is now, and I know you wouldn't be surprised to hear I wound up murdered.

I admit I was a bad kid. I committed a number of petty crimes, often in the company of my older brother, Roland, and rarely in the company of he and my sister, Roslyn. She came along only on the occasion when we must steal to feed ourselves, our mother having disappeared on one or another of her many 'vacations'. This didn't happen often, but it happened often enough for Roland and me to get quite good at it, until we found something better.

Drugs. I suppose it was inevitable that we should come across this demon of western society during the course of our errant night wanderings and afternoon jaunts. Somewhere along the way, somebody handed over a joint, then a snort, and, for Roland, a needle. I never liked the idea of being so hardcore about it, but Roland was a firebrand, and he was nothing if not hardcore about everything he did.

Within the course of a few short months, he left school permanently, and began selling from his car. My sister followed him, but only briefly. As is often the case with young, pretty, vulnerable girls loose on the streets, Roslyn's path veered sharply away from ours into a labyrinthine quagmire of bad men and bad choices. Our interactions with our sister dwindled to the occasional and necessarily brief telephone call.

Unlike Roslyn, Roland stayed close through the years, though I often feared he would leave me alone with mother on a whim. We knew he didn't have to stay. He made enough money and met enough high-level contacts in the smuggling business that he could have gone anywhere to do anything. Regardless of the nefarious opportunities that carried him far away for weeks at a time, however, he always came back to mom and me.

I thought at the time that he came back because he loved us. Looking down on my wasted, naked body, I feel I understand things more clearly now. From the perspective of hindsight, I realize he kept coming back simply so we would miss him, in the event something really should happen to him.

Now I realize, he just wanted to be remembered. He didn't want to be left for the rats and roaches in a waste bin in some back alley downtown. He didn't want to lay unclaimed for years in one of those stainless steel drawers wrapped in a thick rubber bag. He didn't want to rot in a shallow grave in the forest without somebody, somewhere wondering, 'Whatever happened to him?'

As it happened, in fact, we did wonder. After a few weeks of wondering, we went looking, my mother and I.

I remember a month had passed, and I hadn't seen or heard of him. When I started asking, my contacts in the neighborhood told me he had conflicted with a crew from the city. I quickly learned he had fronted a large quantity of methamphetamine from them, but I wasn't surprised or alarmed to hear it. This was Roland's way of recovering from a bad bet or a sour deal.

Fronting drugs from a higher-level dealer is the same as a businessman going to his bank for a loan. Providing his reputation in the business is good, he could walk away with a couple of pounds of product for a ten thousand dollar note. A man with junky customers has a guaranteed, long-term, repeat business, after all, and his suppliers knew this all too well. After a few cuts and a few street deals, Roland could repay the ten thousand with interest, with enough left over to buy a new inventory and start all over again.

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