By J. W. Wright

”Nails." he said smugly, motioning to the dirt-caked box on the table.  

"Nails?" said Richard, looking confused as ever. "Why the hell would you care if I had any nails, man?"  

"What concerns me mister, is your attitude. I simply asked if you had any nails. Now answer the question simply, else I should have to bring out my friend 'Betsy'."  

“You can bring out whoever the goddamn hell you please. I ain't gonna give you my nails!"

Richard had slipped. He knew damn well he had some nails, but they were the only ones he had. How he longed for the old days when he could simply go to the store and buy some! But it had been a long time since those days. Twenty, perhaps even thirty years had passed since the last time he was able to get his own nails.

The man looked down at him, his sunglasses reflecting the summer sun directly into Richards’s eyes.

"So you do have them? You goddamned liar!"

"Look man, I don't have any nails, ok? I ain't trying to be hostile! I-I w-was just scared... That's all."

"Scared?" scoffed the man, "What in the hell are you scared of anyway? Just a few seconds ago you told me you didn't care who I brought out!"

The man reached slowly into his pocket. Upon bringing out his hand Richard could now see that this man was indeed serious about getting his nails. A rusty old .45 caliber revolver stuck out from his thin white hands. The word "Betsy" was carved haphazardly into the side of the barrel.

"Now... Do you see I mean business?" asked the man.

"Well I definitely see you have the means to back up what you say." said Richard, motioning to the gun in the mans hands. "But, I still don't have any nails, man."

"Bullshit!" shouted the man. "Give me the damn nails or I am going to put a bullet in your head!"

Richard tried hard to calm himself. It had been a long time since anyone had waved a gun in his face. He used to have it so easy. Back when the world was still... around. Now it was just him. His wife and children were killed by these assholes looking for nails. If only he wouldn't have given up his habit. If only he would have kept on smoking. He would have his wife and children here today. He always used to have extra packs on him.

"Nails" they called them... "Coffin Nails". Brand didn't matter. Just as long as you had some nails on you, you could get most anything you wanted. Food, shelter... hell even a good lay if a man wanted it bad enough. Though it seemed most simply smoked their nails. Which, to Richard seemed almost pointless. The world was gone, and nails were your only hope at bartering your way for a roof over your head or food in your stomach... yet here were these idiots smoking their money away.

"You want my nails? If you want my nails, you are going to have to kill me for them, man. 'Least if you kill me I can be with my family again."

"Kill you?" shouted the man "I'll do it! I swear to God I will!"

Richard knew he would kill him. In fact, Richard knew exactly who this man was. He had been following him for a long time now. Posing as a merchant who sold "a little bit of everything" he would set up shop wherever the man would go. From his shop, he could keep an eye on him while still maintaining his cover.

"Please don't kill me, man!"

Richard felt the muzzle of the gun pressed hard into his gut. It's metal felt cold, even through his shirt. He looked down. He remembered that gun. He remembered how that gun looked when it was held in his wife, Kelly's hands.

"Look mister, just give me the god-damn nails, and we'll be done here. Nice and easy now. But I swear, if you try to screw me it's straight to hell for you, pal!"

Richard reached over to the box on the table. His hands shook wildly as he tried to grab ahold of it. The gun stuck into his side like a thorn. His whole body ached, his lungs heaved. His heart beat heavy in his chest. He knew he had this man where he wanted him. But still, he had never been more scared in his life.

Richard lifted the box slowly off the table. The contents within shifting wildly about. The man's eyes widened as he looked upon the box.

"Yes, that's it. Give me the nails."

"Of course."

Richard handed the man the box. He took it in one hand and eyed it suspiciously. He examined it carefully and then slowly backed up, removing his gun from Richard's stomach.

"Yes, I knew you had nails." said the man opening the box and seeing the cigarettes. "You had three cartons... I'm going to be set for a very long time! Now you just stay there mister, no funny movements or else!" 

The man began to back up, keeping his eyes locked on Richard.

"Gerald?" said Richard suddenly; "It's been a long time since we met last."

The man stopped, his eyes wide and his face white with fear.

"You... how do you know me?"

"Twenty years ago you killed my wife, man. I don't forget something like that."

"You son of a bitch! I thought you were dead!"

"Dead? It takes more then a few bullets to kill me, Gerald. I promised myself that I wouldn't die until I saw you get put down for what you did. And now, here we are. My wife had two guns, Gerald. This one is named 'Bertha'."

Richard nodded towards the .357 he held in his own hand. He pulled the trigger.

"I'll be taking those nails now, man."