Picture a kill.

A high school courtyard filled with grads. Deely–boppers, rainbow wigs, Darth Vader masks, devil’s ears. Bow–tied teachers mugging for pictures, slit–skirted sisters sipping from flasks. Picture me, an outcast nerd.

Picture Hammerhead Hirsch. Bookstore cowboy, minor Beat icon, long–ago Golden Gloves boxing champ. Head pictures me as a poet and dreamer, not his adoring sidekick only. Head’s hair is swept back in iron–gray waves, his burly chest strains his fresh Hawaiian, his mad–merry eyes hint of wondrous knowledge the squares aren’t hip to.

Picture my mother in a grey pants suit. She is as slender and straight as an aspen, and a brave smile cracks a façade hardened by a bitter divorce from a cheating husband four years before.

Picture my mom meeting Hammerhead Hirsch, whose licentious cave has been my hangout for three years. They are years, Mom believes, that I should have been home in our all–white apartment, where she fights depression by steam–cleaning the carpet three times a week.       

“Your nickname is Head, Mr. Hirsch?” Mom’s face is pinched with the strain of conversing politely with a boho.

“Yes, ma’am,” says Head, dusting off his formal manners, “but it’s got nothing to do with grass, I assure you—folks oft make that error. Head’s short for Hammerhead, for the way I could take a punch back in the day.”

“You’re a colorful man,” says Mom stiffly. She looks restively around the courtyard but finds no comfort in the pulsating throng.

But she does see my father.

My well–tanned father saunters towards us like an L.A. cliché in his beige linen jacket and lime–green silk shirt with two buttons undone. His expression is that of a man who has walked into just the wrong party and needs a drink badly.

“This is my father,” I tell Head.                                                                               

My father stretches out the hand that has shaken dozens of hands of homebuyers in the affluent western end of the San Fernando Valley. “Pleased to meet you,” he slurs with an insouciant grin. “I’ve heard nothing about you.” Head laughs off the gibe as the normal behavior of a stressed alpha male.

Mom stares at the alpha with naked loathing.

Picture an assassin. For years the assassin has stalked her prey but can rarely get near him. On the rare occasions when the prey is near, he is well guarded. Likewise my father is rarely near, for he ceased making the hour–plus drive from the Valley to see me shortly after Mom and I moved to Venice. And he is always well guarded—not by Secret Service agents, but by the presence of some girlfriend or other who is prettier and younger than Mom, and capable by her presence alone of disemboweling her.  

Picture an assassin praying for years for one clear shot.

Picture my mother getting that shot.

Drawn by the occasion, my father has made the long drive from West Hills and entered willingly into Mom’s presence. Bowing to decency, he has deposited his girlfriend at the far side of the courtyard. His very own son, whom he scarcely knows—although he casually, promiscuously says on the phone now and then that he “really ought to spend more time with you, Robbie”—has provided the ammunition to bring him down. Knowing her target will flitter off soon, my mother takes aim.

“Mr. Hirsch is quite an important figure in your son’s life,” she says. “Your son calls him his father figure. He says he’s really his dad, in effect.”

My dad’s head jerks back like JFK’s. The wound is mortal, there can be no doubt. The Hand That Pumped Ten–Thousand Fists lingers in Head’s grasp as if my father has forgotten the simple procedure of clasp, shake, remove; and the face that beams from a series of Top Producer photos searches Head’s face like an addled old man trying to remember who on earth this might be.  

Head performs triage. “Mr. Steiner,” he says, squeezing my father’s hand with masculine reassurance, “your son may’ve called me Daddio once or twice out of respect for my Beat days, but that’s as far as that father riff goes. Matter of fact, he’s told me a million times that his way with words comes straight from you—and I’ll tell you, sir, your honor student’s got the gift of gab big–time.”

My father’s smile has sagged and collapsed. He grasps the shoulders of a son he scarcely knows, understanding now that he never will. His drowning eyes beg a hug of his son, but it is not to be, for the son too is drowning. The man clasps his grad’s cheeks. “Just look at you,” he says, groping for the right note. “You’ve done it, my boy.” But my boy rings as false as a dying man’s prayer upon a deathbed conversion.

I look into eyes that have shrunk to pinpoints. For the lack of anything better to do, my father sticks a hundred–dollar bill in my pocket. Seeking words but finding none, he walks away on weakening legs.

Staring after him with grim satisfaction, the assassin watches her victim die.


Jon Sindell is a humanities tutor and a writing coach for business professionals. His flash fiction collection, The Roadkill Collection, is scheduled to be released by Big Table Publishing in late 2014. Jon’s short fiction has appeared in over sixty publications. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco.

“One Clear Shot” is the story of an emotional “hit.” The divorced mom cannot resist the overwhelming urge to take emotional revenge on her ex–husband, though her son is sure to be hurt by the blast. Hammerhead Hirsch, the dad’s colorful foil, is the star of the unpublished novel Trips `n’ Trials of a Down, Beat Dad, which seeks a home. Inquries to




Copyright 2009