by Paul Broussard
David looked up from his typewriter and around his small study. All he had done was scroll the paper through the relic that had been given to him by his father-in-law upon entering community college and his hands were already sweating. They were all so happy when he decided on accounting as his major. His eyes swept the little room stopping here and there at a faded bowling trophy, a lacquered Father’s Day rock from his daughter, a wedding bible, and finally out the door at his wife, Bethany, washing dishes in the kitchen. He could feel a small frog from his stomach settle in his throat as if accusing him, convicting him of a despicable deed he had done so many years ago it seemed now like a dream. There was a fog taking over his mind; an involuntary compulsion to forget. The symptoms start small as they always do. At first he was simply misplacing things like his keys and cell phone. He would buy another cell phone and then find his old one in the garage or a coat pocket. Then it became forgetting staff meetings at work and even one time thinking it was Saturday and not coming into the office until noon. Then one night, after kissing Bethany goodnight and rolling over to go to sleep she jumped out of bed and ran crying to the bathroom. Alarmed, he followed her and she just stood there by the basin, tears streaming down her face, asking him how after all these years of marriage could he have possibly forgotten her birthday. The worst part about it was that after she had told him he had forgotten he still couldn’t remember. It was all so foggy; dates, times, days of the week. That’s when he went to see his primary care doctor which referred him to a neurologist who in turn told him he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure. Over the next few years he was going to eventually lose it all. When asked, the doctor said it could get so bad he wouldn’t even remember the face of his own daughter, and she was his flesh and blood. However, there was one event many years ago, or should he say deed, which he felt he would never forget. It was cold, calculating, and fueled by an unquenchable fire that, at the time, consumed him completely. A deed that went unpunished, and one that he was forced to live with like an abusive parent; an act that if not told soon would slip away from him forever. Looking back on it all, he realized now that it was all for love. So he set his fingers to the keys, closed his eyes, and began to type.
One Thursday many years ago…
It was a hot and sticky evening when I first saw her. My clothes clung to me like a damp washcloth. I was frustrated. As the sun set, the air got still. It was as if everything was coming to grinding halt. The pink sky collided with deep purple as black pigeons flew over playfully. Was this the just of it? I had lived here all my life and everything just seemed to happen again and again; until now. I was fed up. Dago was flirting again. Ever since he got those new tats he thought he was God’s gift. I didn’t blame him. He didn’t come from a good background. I used to take up for him in the third grade. Through me he gained his confidence. But I need him too. He was one of those rare types of people who truly understood loyalty. He once told me that when I smile he smiles. Who says shit like that nowadays?
“Being obnoxious doesn’t make her a lesbian.” I told him as he took a puff of his Newport cigarette, dropped it, and then crushed it with his tennis shoe.
“I know a lesbian when I see one bro.” Dago said defensively. Chimmy muffled his laughter.
“He don’t care whether she’s a lesbian or not, he’s just mad she ignored him and kept on walking.” Chimmy broke out in full laughter.
“Which is why no one will ignore us any longer. It is now or never.” I couldn’t breathe.
“Look, we need to stay focused for this to work,” I said trying to calm down.
It was dangerous, I knew, but like my old man once told me, anything worth doing won’t be a picnic. Me, Chimmy, and Dago had been peddling crack for Topcat making him rich for almost four years with nothing to show for it. Every other Friday the three of us take the A-train across town to drop off the money we made that week and pick up more baggies. The little money we made we split amongst ourselves. Now it’s time for the changing of the guard. Every day from our stoop in front of Chimmy’s grandmother brownstone we sold our baggies to the zombies walking the blocks and every day we see Topcat cruising by in his shiny new Mercedes checking his spots. He would drive by slowly, smiling, flashing his gold teeth, and throwing a deuce in the air. We gave him the two finger sign back to let him know it’s all good, but lately, I’ve despised the whole thing. Topcat is a silly fool that has been living high of the hog for too long, whiles me and mine just scrape by. There is a fire in me that is growing into an insatiable inferno. My hands shake uncontrollably and I break into cold sweats. I have fire in my eyes.
“Ok, so is everyone clear on how this thing is going down? We meet back here tomorrow evening to take the train uptown like we always do, but this time we’re coming strapped,” I say decisively.
“Are we going to kill ‘em?” Dago asked nervously.
“Don’t worry about that. You and Chimmy will be standing point outside in case there are any unexpected visitors. You both just make sure you have my back and stay alert. Chimmy, are you sure you can get the guns? I don’t want to walk in there with just my dick in my hand.”
“My cousin is meeting me tomorrow at the bodega, two glocks and two techs right?”
“Perfect! Boys, this is the dawn of a new era. It’s time to take control of our lives and take what is rightfully ours!” I was getting excited. The flames were seething in my belly.“So we are going to kill ‘em?” Dago asks again. He takes a long pull of his forty ounce beer.
“No Dago, I don’t think it will come to that but you better be ready for anything,” I say sternly. In my head I knew I was going to have to put down Topcat and his fat ass bodyguard. There was no way they were going to just let me walk out of there with all there dope. But I have to keep my boys calm for this to work. However, I still needed one more man, but whom? I told Chimmy to text me after he met with his cousin, and then we all split and went our separate ways.
I felt this strange giddiness come over me. There was something exciting about having control over your own destiny. There was something alluring about having the ability to manipulate fate like a marionette puppet. Topcat won’t know what hit him. I only wanted what was due me and that was the world and everything in it.
I walked to the corner and took right down Main St. The sunset was beautiful as I felt its last rays on my face. The sudden promise of a future made me feel bold and alive. The neighborhood was buzzing with activity, people coming home from work, traffic singing in the wind. Then there she was, standing under the awning of a small bakery halfway up the block. Even though I was positive we had never met, it was the familiarity of her face that I first noticed; a famous celebrity, a distant cousin. Her skin had a smooth suppleness, the color of cocoa butter. In her arms she held a small brown paper bag of French bread snug against her breast, the plumpness of which bulged slightly from the top of her sunflower yellow sun dress. I was entranced by the coy expression on her face. Her lips were like ripe strawberries and her eyes held a sad grace. A gentle breeze blew through her wavy locks which fell lightly on her exposed shoulders and down to the small of her back. I was stunned by her beauty and found myself holding my breath. As I walked closer to the bakery I inhaled and smelled the delicate scent of baking bread that gave me the sense of heaven on earth as I beheld her. Is she real I thought to myself? God somehow was able to put the promise of all his goodness into this one precious being. The whole world seemed to fall away as I traversed the last few yards to her. What would I say? I’ll think of something. Just then the little bell which hung from the bakery door rung and I was snapped back into reality. A young man stepped out under the awning, put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek. By then I was close enough to notice the tattoo tear on his cheek. Then, as they turned to walk up the street my arm brushed hers. For me it was electric but she didn’t notice. I was crestfallen as I looked back to see them giggling arm and arm up the block. Damn, I know that guy I said to myself; that’s Jimmy Z. He was one of the hood wannabe gangsters and two-bit hoodlums; but his folks got money. His father owns a few dry cleaners around town. There was no way in hell he should be with her. I wanted to cry. That guy was a punk; a rookie. He was faker than a three dollar bill. She was so graceful as they walked together; her giggles the epitome of innocents. My soul had been jarred as if it wasn’t already. My stomach was burning so I stepped inside the food store at the corner and bought a Yoohoo. By the time I came back outside Jimmy Z and his girl were already gone. Night had taken over and the street light buzzed on overhead.
I walked home feeling drained and depleted. Emotions swirled inside me like a cesspool. Thoughts of her haunted my mind like a poltergeist. I took a long cool shower and sat on the edge of my bed. The big brawny assertiveness I felt only a couple over hours ago was gone and now all I wanted was her. It was as if she had been on the tip of my tongue the whole time and now that I saw her it was all becoming clear. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed her before. I reflected back to when our arms brushed on the street; that tiny electric charge that started the combustion of love. However, she was with Jimmy Z. They looked happy together. She seemed so innocent I wondered if she really knew what made her happy; surely not that shallow guy. I had so much more depth than him, I just knew it…and I still needed one more man for Friday. As I laid back on the cool sheets and stared up at the circling ceiling fan a plan began to circle its way in my head.
When I awoke the next morning images of her came flooding back like an old ViewMaster toy I had as a kid, her hair, that dress, the smell of the bakery. I leaped out of bed rejuvenated. I got dressed and went into the kitchen where my aunt had left breakfast for me in the microwave before she went to work. I ate my eggs and grits robotically, thinking of the plan I made the night before. It was going to be a beautiful day. After breakfast I stepped outside. The sky was dreary. Large thunderclouds rolled in from the west threatening the city. It was that second wave of morning where everyone who had jobs was already there and those that didn’t were just waking up. The first order of business was to meet my boys. I jumped on the train and settled into my seat for the ten minute ride. This city was a disaster waiting to happen. All along the route were liquor stores, churches, burnt out vehicles, and abandoned tenements. It was a wasteland. On the train, everyone refused to make eye contact, as if it may cause them to lose what little they had. I got off the train with a purpose.
By the time I got to Chimmy’s, they were already there on the stoop. Dago had his morning forty ounce already glued to his hand sucking from it like a pacifier. Two fiends stood by eagerly.
“Come on baby, work with me,” said the first fiend with a rope tied around his pants and holding seven wrinkled dollars.
“I think your friend is holding out on you, I know he got three dollars,” Chimmy said trying to add some civility to the situation. When they saw me approaching the second fiend tapped the other on the arm.
“We’ll just come back a little later,” the second said to Chimmy as they both shuffled off down the block.
“Wassup David, you all right?” Dago asked.
“Yea, I’m cool…long night. What it do?”
“Shit, just trying to squeeze a dollar out of fifteen cent.” That was Dago’s favorite line.
“Look, I know came off a little throwed off yesterday but we still ride or die together right?” I asked.
“You know it D.”
“Yea man, we brothers.”
“Good, cause I ran into Jimmy Z yesterday. We need one more crash-dummy to make this thing work.” I grabbed Dago’s forty and took a swig.
“Don’t his pops own those cleaners around town?” Chimmy asked.
“Have you seen his girl? She’s hot!” Dago chimed in. My heart leapt in my chest. I was about to fly off the handle when I said,
“Yea, me and him was locked up together last summer. Imma head to “Tha Bottoms” now to see if he’ll be down with us tonight, and if my calculations serve me correct, he’ll be all over it.” A loud thunderclap rumbled overhead.
Dago took his forty back, “Cool.”
“Don’t forget to text me after you meet with your cousin,” I said to Chimmy. So far so good, I thought to myself as I turned to go. As soon as I left, the two fiends came running back to continue their haggling.
You have to take two trains to get to “Tha Bottoms” at the southernmost tip of the city. It used to be a middle-class neighborhood but now it was over-run with Puerto Ricans and prostitution. I stepped off the train and into a light drizzle.
I hated this part of town. Everyone including the little old lady carried blades; a bunch of cut-throats. I walked down the street and rounded the corner to where I knew all the junior leaguers hung out. Jimmy wasn’t hard to spot. He stood surrounded by four guys telling his story of a recent conquest.
“Man, she was all over me, grabbing me, kissing me. I told her I was practically married but hell, that didn’t stop her.” He was wearing a velour jump suit with patent leather Jordans. The zipper on his sweater was only half zipped exposing his gold chains. “She said, your girl ain’t got nothing on this!”
I walked up calm and collected but inside I was seething. This guy was a pitiful pup that needed discipline. When I got close it took me a second to recognize me. “King David! Long time no see. What you doing down here in Tha Bottoms man?” Everyone turned to look at me.
“I was just dropping off a pant suit to be altered for my aunt and I saw you and I thought I’d come over and say hi,” I lied.
“Man, this guy had everybody paying him in the county, ha! I remember that one time…”
“Hey, you mind if I holla at you for a sec? Excuse us fellas,” I said. Jimmy Z stepped through his audience.
“What’s up D, you in trouble?” I could smell his watered down aftershave and noticed his Jordans were only cheap And Ones.
“Look, I need a Sundance Kid tonight. I got the guns already, a simple in and out, fifteen large guaranteed, you in?” My phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Tonight?” Jimmy Z asked. I pulled out my phone and it was a text message. It said: Chimmy- Cousin came through…all good!
“Yes, tonight. I’ve got a good crew and we’ve been working together a long time. I need to know right now.” Jimmy Z took a deep breath and looked around. My heart thumped.
“Fifteen large? Hell, I’m in, when and where?” I smiled.
“Cool, meet me in front of Kennedy Park tonight at 7:00 sharp.”
That was easy enough. A guy like Jimmy Z could never resist a chance to make a name for himself. I left him in front of his father’s cleaners to catch the train back t Midtown to meet up with Chimmy. Despite the light rain and overcast my spirits were high. I was thinking how her and I (I didn’t even know her name) would take over the city together. With a woman like that by my side anything was possible. We would attend the classiest galas hosted by the most influential people in the city. Bankers, lawyers, and politicians would all fall victim to our charm as we finagled and bribed our way to the top. I was about to tip the scales of fate in my favor.
Chimmy was already on the stoop when I got there waiting for me with a black Jansport backpack. “Let me see.” I took the backpack and looked inside. Four guns of black steel looked back at me. “That’s what’s up. Good job Chimmy, you really came through.”
Chimmy smiled like a schoolboy. “Where’s Dago?”
“He’s at his girl’s spot. He told me to call him when we’re ready.”
“I told Jimmy Z to meet us at Kennedy Park at seven. From there we’ll take the train uptown to meet Topcat like we normally do, hopefully for the last time. I’m gonna go home and get some rest, you should do the same. It might be a long night.” We fist bumped as I threw the backpack over my shoulder. The weapons rattled like gold bullion.
When I got home, I placed the backpack by my bed and laid down. I was excited but was still able to squeeze in a few hours of sleep. When I awoke it was dusk and the drizzle had stirred into a full blown thunderstorm. Heavy sheets of rain bludgeoned the windowpane in my tiny bedroom. I grabbed the backpack, took out the guns, and placed them on the bed beside me one by one; two glocks and two tech 9s. Their oily steel had a strange luminosity of their own, as if alive. I began to think of the loneliness of my childhood. Both of my parents died in an automobile accident when I was six; that’s when my aunt took me in. She had no children of her own and I knew she loved me, but she was forced to work so much I rarely saw her. I pretty much raised myself, cooking, doing the laundry. Sometimes she would come home late and fall asleep on our old sofa still in her uniform. I would see her on my way to use the bathroom and would remove her shoes and cover her with a thin blanket. I wasn’t a virgin but I’ve never had a love I could really call my own. I’d see couples in the park while shooting hoops and wonder in the back of my mind what it was like.
A knot formed in my throat. I picked up one of the pistols, took out the clip, and slid the top part of the chamber back. I knew a little about guns while hanging out on the block. I popped out the little spring and took out the little metal stem that sat right below the hammer; the firing pin. After that, I replaced the spring, put the pistol back together again, and threw the pin in the wastepaper basket next to my night stand. I then put the safety on and turned off the safety on the other pistol. I put the guns back in the backpack and looked at the clock. I had only thirty minutes to meet my crew and head uptown so I got dressed, threw on my black bomber jacket and headed out the door lugging the leaden backpack over my shoulder.
The night was pitch black and angry. The wind blew peoples umbrellas inside out as they scurried across the street like cockroaches seeking shelter. I walked fast and deliberate barely noticing the maelstrom around me. I only lived a few blocks from the park and as I approached I could see three figures standing under the cover of the basketball court; Chimmy, Dago, and Jimmy Z. Dago had a forty.
“Throw that damn thing away! Jimmy, glad you could make it,” I said professionally.
“Anytime bro, let’s do this.”
Dago sat his bottle on the half-court line and we all went back into the rain to catch the train uptown. As we sat on the train no one said a word. We were all deep in thought unsure of exactly what was to come, except for me. My sense had an electric clarity like an exposed wire. It was a fifteen minute ride uptown and when we got off the train the rain had let up a bit. The four of us walked together, all in black, to the candy store Topcat used as a front for his operation. Just about a block away we ducked under a nearby awning where I distributed the guns. I gave Chimmy and Dago each a tech, handed Jimmy Z pistol with the safety catch still on, and stuffed the last pistol in the small of my back.
“Ok, everyone make sure your safety is off.” Everyone each checked their gun. “I want you two each to stand on a corner like we planned. Jimmy, you come inside with me.” Chimmy and Dago walked off to take their positions in the shadow. “Just follow my lead this will be a piece of cake,” I told Jimmy as we walked around the side of the candy store to the service entrance. I knocked on the door and a big 6’3” gorilla of a man opened the door and let us in.
“David! My prized pupil, I was beginning to think you weren’t coming with the weather like it is. But I can always count on you to come through,” Topcat said with a smile flashing his gold teeth. We walked into his small office where he was sitting behind a desk counting a large amount of cash. Gorillaman took up a spot next to him, expressionless. “Who the hell is he?” Topcat nodded at Jimmy.
“Well, business is booming,” I began,” and I had to recruit some more help. We’ve known each other for years. Plus his old lady is pregnant and he could use the extra cash. I need more product.”
“There is nothing I respect more than a family man. I’m always willing to help out the community. Lou go get the stuff.” Topcat had a large chrome 44 magnum on the desk in front of him and I noticed that Big Lou had a pistol in his belt loop. When he came back he dropped a large brick on the desk.
“Well, where’s my money?” Topcat asked still smiling. I reaching around like I was going to get the backpack off my shoulder but pulled out my pistol instead. I glanced at Jimmy and he whipped out his faulty weapon.
“Well, well what do we have here?” Topcat asked not smiling anymore.
“Hammertime!” I said and shot him in the chest, through the chair, knocking him backwards on the floor. Just as Big Lou reached for his gun Jimmy pulled the trigger and I heard a loud click. Jimmy’s eyes got wide as he realized his time had come to an end. Big Lou shot him twice in the chest. Then I shot Big Lou in the face and blew the left side of his head and ear off. He fell back onto some filing cabinets then slid down to take a seat with one eye open. I heard a gurgling noise and looked down to see Jimmy Z reaching an arm up to me. He was trying to breathe but the air in his lungs was escaping through his bullet wounds. He was trying to say something.
“My…gu..gguuggll….helpggll…mmm” he tried to speak but couldn’t get it out. I stood there for a moment watching him. Then I leaned down and cradled his head in my arm placing my hand over his nose and mouth. His eyes bulged out and he started to kick desperately.
“Shh…just relax, just relax. It’s all over now,” I told him quietly. Slowly his body went limp as his life slipped away from him. Just then the door to the small office flew open and it was Chimmy and Dago breathing heavily with their weapons drawn. They looked down at me holding Jimmy’s head as Jimmy’s eyes stared up into space.
“What happened? We heard the shots and came running,” Dago said breathlessly.
“They shot Jimmy,” I said, “Get the money.” Stunned Dago grabbed the backpack I handed him and began filing it with the money sitting in piles on the table. Chimmy helped me up and the three of us ran off into the night.
Me, Dago, and Chimmy walked up the steps of the small, crowded, weakly air conditioned funeral parlor. The placard at the entrance said: Memorial Service for James Zapata. The tiny place was packed with black clad viewers. The three of us worked our way through the crowd to see Jimmy Z lying on a satin pillow surrounded by flowers of all colors. The word on the street was that no one knew why he was in that candy store that night. There was an investigation but no leads. That is typical in the hood. I figured he didn’t tell anyone we were meeting that night in order to keep all the money for himself. Fate is fickle. Dago and Chimmy walked up to the casket while I scanned the crowd for her. The three of us bought nice suits but other than that we spent nothing. Chimmy had the money stashed at his grandmother’s crib. I was just about to give up when I spotted her. It was only the back of her head but that was all it took to send my world spiraling. She was crying softly holding a Kleenex up to her nose. I loosened my tie. This was it, the moment of truth. I walked over to her pew and sat in the open spot next to her.
“Jimmy and I go way back, he was a good guy. Did you know him well?”
“He was my fiancé,” she said between sobs.
“Oh, I’m sorry, my condolences. My name is David.”
“Hello,” she said looking up and offering her tender hand, “Bethany.” And that was when our eyes met for the first time.