David M. Tambolli
My body is fear drenched with sweat. It’s not cold outside, but I am shivering. I’ve been here for thirty minutes. I’m blindfolded and I’m on my knees. My mouth is taped and my hands are tied behind my back. I faintly hear a car pull up in the distance. Please God, let it be my dad, please have him come rescue me, I thought.
"Click! Bang,” my father said playfully. The cowboys and Indians were in a big fight. "Boom, Bang," he would tell me. Sometimes, when he was telling me bedtime stories, it felt like he was the main character; he was the Indian in the Wild West who chose peace, but had to fight if he were to save his people. He'd lift me up, toss me, and turn me and I would feel like I was on the battlefield. "Storm the enemy lines," he would say, while throwing the blanket over my face. When I couldn't see him, he'd say, "We've gott'em now, right where we want them. They can fight all they want, but they'll never defeat us!" Then I’d toss-up my blanket and give him the old one-two. He would turn off my bedside lamp and stand by the door. For a moment, I could still see the shining light from the hallway before my father shut the door. He looked like a tall, mysterious figure that I couldn’t clearly see. Then he would shut the door and I would close my eyes and –plop- fall into a deep, peaceful sleep.
When I was young, I dreamt of becoming just like my father. He was strong, noble, and stood up for what he believed in. He showed me how to make my first business deal and taught me not to take shit from anyone. I remember this one time, when my mother was out grocery shopping, a large man in a suit came knocking on my front door. He was looking for Mike, my father's good friend. My father knew Mike made a mistake, he "whacked" the wrong guy, but my father would never admit to it, especially not to the men in suits. When money was tight, my father would take business deals down in Nebraska where old politicians live. That's the best place to make a hit. It’s windy outside and very secluded. But I could tell that my father never enjoyed that type of business. He’d come home later that night for dinner and would eat much slower than usual. Sometimes, he wouldn’t eat at all. He would sit at the dinner table in silence, staring at his food with what I imagined his mind drifting off to the moment he shot the guy. My mother would get the worst of it. She wasn’t as strong as my father, but tried to be. She would hum quietly while she cooked dinner. It was as if she were pretending like nothing happened, like my father just came back from the meat store, but it bottled up her emotions. It wouldn’t be long before she broke down and cried.
I remember one time when a girl in my school broke down and cried. It was in between classes, and everyone was out in the hallway. I went over to her as if she were a relative of mine and hugged her. People watched, but I didn’t care. Neither did she. I wanted her to be okay and to be able to make it to my birthday party later that week. I tried to lighten the mood, so I made a joke to her by saying, “Oh, common!” She looked up at me. “My birthday party’s not going to be that bad,” I said. She didn’t laugh, but I could see a slight smile.
It was my fourteenth birthday. "Happy Birthday!" Uncle Pete said, pulling me close. He gave me a strong nuggy on the top of my head. His knuckles felt like a shotgun bullet crackling against my young skull. He handed me a watch as a gift, but oddly enough, told me not to mention it to anyone. It was gold, quite heavy for my wrist, and had a red horse emblem on it. My uncle was a horse jockey trainer at the time, which would explain the horse emblem on the watch, but there was no way my uncle could have paid for that. I asked him to take it back, but he refused. "It's yours kid. Enjoy!" My Uncle said. But, how could I really enjoy it knowing that it had probably been stolen?
The last time I saw Uncle Pete was at the horse track. It was surprising that my father even asked me if I wanted to go with him. Usually he goes alone, but he told me Uncle Pete was going out of town for a while, and it would be the last time I got to see him. When we got to the track, my father introduced me to a bunch of older men with funny looking chins and bloated stomachs. My father shook everyone’s hand and then took me into the stable. Uncle Pete was waiting there for us in his work outfit and then shook my father’s hand. He then grabbed a hold of the back of my neck like it was an armchair before patting me on the shoulder with his shit-shoveling arm. He insisted that I ride one of the horses in the stable. I looked over at my father for his approval and then I hopped on a horse. “Look at him go. We got another horse jockey for today,” Uncle Pete said chuckling. He then took my father and I to our seats and told everyone, including strangers at the track, to scream at the top of their lungs if we wanted our horse to win. "Louder. Louder, com’on guys you can do better than that. Louder" he would say playfully. We ended up winning a couple of races, but lost most of them. When the races finished for the day, my father ripped up his losing tickets and dropped them into the wind and said, "Well, sometimes you win some kid, sometimes you wind up in a puddle." I never understood his joke.
It was raining. I was seventeen years old and it was the first time my father had me come along with him on one of his real business meetings. Some of his other meetings were at fancy restaurants, but the real ones were out in the middle of nowhere and he made me stay in the car. I peeked my head out once trying to see what was going on and I could hear my father talking to the guy, but I couldn’t see the guy’s face. My father told me that even he would never see the guy’s face. By the time he would arrive, the guy would be waiting there for him; blindfolded, face turned, and with his hands behind his back. He said it was better that way.
I heard two gunshots and then my father came back to the car. I asked him why he didn’t let me watch it up close, but he ignored me. He went into the driver’s seat and we drove off. In the car he started, “Because kid, you’re not ready to see it up close just yet.”
“Then why did you bring me along?”
He paused for a moment, “because I want to show you what your life is going to be like someday. It’s important to me that you see what it’s like, so you're ready when the time comes.”
“Well, what if I don’t want too?”
He groaned, “I'm sorry to say it, but you don’t really have a choice." He paused and then continued, "Listen, It’s either this or you might wind up in the bottom of the lake. And that's something neither of us wants.”
“I cant. I’m not going to do it.”
He didn’t respond. Neither of us spoke the rest of the way home.
My first business meeting came one year later when I was eighteen. My father took me out to a lake and we were supposedly hitting some guy who robbed the bakery on Ettle Street. When we pulled up to the spot, my intuition urged me to point the gun and miss, but I also couldn’t disappoint my father. He would probably disown me. My hand was shaking and I held the gun to the guy’s back. I didn’t realize shooting a guy could be so difficult. I squinted my eyes and raised the gun to back of the guy’s head. I slowly pulled the trigger. Bang! I puked.
I watched the guy droop and hang. You know how in the movies, when the guy gets shot, he plops to the ground instantly? Well, that’s not what its like. He dangles, his body leans, and sways. He slouches like one of those old geezers and you can't tell if he is gone or not. It's like he is in this state of limbo, where he doesn’t want to die, but his body can't help itself from giving in. I imagine that’s the moment when his life flashes before his eyes, the same moment when he questions whether or not he is going to heaven or hell. My father stood over the body and said,“It’s when their eyes finally close…that’s when they truly die. But just in case, the only way to make sure is to shoot one more time." “Bang!”
When I was nineteen, I told my father and his clients that I would only be doing one last business deal ever again. My father urged me to reconsider, but my mind was set. I didn’t want to be just like my dad anymore. “I’m sorry kid, but you can’t just quit that easy. If it were up to me, you would have never gotten into this in the first place, but the truth of the matter is, If you stop now, there’s no telling who’s going to come after you. They may even come after me,” my father said.
I didn’t respond.
Two weeks later, I went on my last business call. My job was to pick up a package and deliver it directly to the point. The client was one of my father’s good friends, but I brought my gun just in case. I didn’t even speak to my father before I left the house that morning. By the time I woke up, he was already gone. He had a hit to make that day.
I arranged to meet this guy on 5th and Ettle for a quick delivery. I was waiting for him on the sidewalk, near the middle of the street, and I had an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach. I blamed the feeling on my nerves, but I should have never gone alone.
Bam! I got hit in the back of the head with what felt like a metal baseball bat. By the time I regained consciousness, I found myself in the trunk of a car. My entire body and consciousness was screaming Fuck! I quickly realized my mouth was taped and my hands were tied behind my back. I kicked and screamed, but no one came to my rescue. I usually never cry, but I started to tear up. I accidentally soiled myself. I was in complete and utter panic. Then we stopped.
I felt like I already knew the routine. Someone would pull out of the trunk and I would struggle. Someone would walk me a few steps off the road and place me down on my knees. That person would get back into his car and leave. Then I would wait thirty minutes in agony, a kind of mental punishment where you know your life is over, but as my father would say, “the cookie jar still feels in reach.”
I can faintly hear a car pull up in the distance. Someone is walking towards me. I feel a gun against the back of my head. I try and reach for my gun under my shirt, but I can’t tell if the gun is still there or not.
“You know, I do this quite a bit. It's funny how I always kind of wonder what's going through some guys head when he knows he's about to get shot. You think it would be all about me, and I guess, I can imagine the only thing you're thinking is please don't shoot me.”
I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, but the tape is in the way. It was my father’s voice. My throat feels like its burning through my lungs as if they are going to burst. He didn’t know it was me. Did he?
“But sometimes, it’s nice to feel a little respect for me in your voice. Yea, just like that. You know, sometimes I want to hear your voice quiver, I want to be the guy to make you feel like you had a chance, like you were tall enough to reach the cookie jar on the top shelf.”
My level of adrenaline skyrocketed. All the while, I’m trying to force my hands free. I can feel the tape sliding around my sweaty wrists. I’m using my feet to kick backwards and I’m spinning my head trying to bite my way through the tape.
“But, its funny because when I was growing up, my father never let me eat any cookies from the cookie jar, so why the fuck should I let you?”