Cherry Bucket

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
A meticulously restored '69 Camaro is 'detailed' by a kid whose skull is held together by Super-Glue and wishful thinking.

Submitted: July 12, 2012

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Submitted: July 12, 2012

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Gary beached his Cordoba half on the sidewalk and half in the street, straddling the strip of browning grass that was nobody’s responsibility. The high wooden fence cast a shadow over half of the car. He wasn’t sure why he’d chosen this spot to park, but his head hurt too much to argue.

He grabbed his duffle bag, though he couldn’t remember why he’d brought it, and slid out into the sun. Looking at his big old clunker and the angle it was parked at, he shook his head. The doctor had been right; he shouldn’t have been driving. If his dad found out, he was dead.

Then he remembered that he was supposed to leave the keys in the ignition, so he went back and replaced them. He wasn’t sure why he was supposed to do this or why he wasn’t sure if he’d done it anyway, but then he forgot he’d done it anyway and walked down the street and around the corner.

He had exactly eight healing scabs encircling his bald head. A doctor had said that hair loss was normal for a case like his, and should be expected. The scabs rubbed against the inside of his baseball cap and made him want a shower. He went to put on sunglasses, but then remembered he was already wearing them, so insignificant was their effect on the pain in his skull.

The lawns in front of the houses he passed were all green and well tended, but there was no one around to take credit. It was quiet for a Saturday. Was it Saturday? It could have been Saturday. Or Wednesday. The truth was, when he thought about it, Gary didn’t have the foggiest idea what day of the week it was. But, then, his short-term memory was all fucked up, so it ceased to be an issue, shortly.

He dropped his bag at the foot of a drive and went to the front door. This was the Wournok’s house. He didn’t know how he knew, but he did. He’d had the halo off for a couple of days now and he didn’t know a lot of things, but wasn’t up to asking questions.

One thing he did know was that his head hurt all of the time. Another thing he knew was that the pain was so incessant that he’d been able to discern a distinct gradient. The base of the curve was just being awake; a continual throb and ache that even high dose pain killers only seemed to buff and polish. Loud noises made him woozy, bright lights, or even vivid colors, made him wince. The smell of garlic, or onions, or shit made him see stars. The taste of ketchup, or chocolate syrup, or orange juice made him nauseous with pain. The one time he’d got it into his head to jerk off, it had felt like someone had gone to work inside his skull with a lightning rod and a torque wrench. He was hypersensitive, but beyond the subtle and infinite hues of pain, he knew very little.

Then, it occurred to Gary, as he stood on the Wournok’s front step, admiring the aluminium ‘W’ embossed upon the screen door, that he had a score to settle with little Tommy. Then, it occurred to him that, since he was at Tommy Wournok’s front door, it might be an idea to ring the bell. So, he did, quickly, before he forgot.

As the bell played a little tinny tune that he knew he should recognise but didn’t, Gary turned slowly and surveyed the scene. Mr. Wournok’s generic grey car was parked in the drive. It wore its government plates like dog tags. Another car rested at the curb and had been lovingly draped in a custom fitted cover. Gary knew what was under the cover, but didn’t remember that he knew.

He heard the knob clack behind him and turned back to the door, feeling something hard and blunt and vaguely mechanical poke him in the small of the back as he did. He felt reassured by this, slightly, but again, could not remember why.

Mrs. Wournok opened the door. She wore a delicate floral print dress with an apron over it. Not one of those smart-ass barbecue ‘Kiss the Chef!’ aprons, this was a proper, blue and white striped job like the TV chefs always wear. The apron meant business. It clashed with the dress, but Gary noticed that it had been recently ironed.

Mrs. Wournok’s hair was freshly styled and sat mostly up, on top of her head. To Gary, she looked an awful lot like a housewife from a fifties sitcom like ‘Leave it to Beaver’, or ‘Ozzie and Harriet’. Gary wondered if people really lived like that, thought of the manicured lawn and government plates and knew that people did, or tried to at least.

Mrs. Wournok’s face couldn’t make up its mind which expression to wear. Dread snapped on and off it like a burnt out fluorescent tube. She knew there could be no happy, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ reason why her loving baby son should get a Saturday morning visit (was it Saturday?) from the kid he had put in the hospital. Allegedly.

Parts of her accepted her son’s guilt, even though the charges had been dropped. He was such a lively boy, after all, and accidents will happen. Parts of her knew all sorts of unsavory things about her son, and her husband too, but they were small parts. Most of her wore a striped apron.

"Well, hello, Gary," she said. Genuine enough. "How are you feeling, dear?" She tilted her head a little to one side, possibly trying to hypnotize Gary and thereby subdue him and fizzle anything nasty that was about to happen. Mother’s Intuition was a powerful thing.

"I feel like hammered shit," Gary said with a heavy sigh, though he was smiling. "Thanks for asking." He hadn’t intended to say anything like that and, judging by the look on Mrs. Wournok’s face, she hadn’t expected to hear it. Still, a doctor had said that a certain loss of inhibitions was sometimes a side effect of such serious brain trauma. Or some shit like that. Gary was not sure. He knew he didn’t want to upset the nice lady, not necessarily, at least. His beef was with the kid.

"My mom liked the flowers," he said in an effort to smooth things. She smiled.

Then, a bolt of pure white pain zinged across the inside of Gary’s head and he had to hold on to the aluminium siding to keep from pitching over into the azaleas. When it faded and he opened his eyes, she was still smiling. It was as if the flash of pain and its attendant contortions and hissing had existed out of time and Mrs. Wournok was frozen, waiting to catch up. Either that or the apron was working overtime.

"Um," she began, not knowing what to ask or say but clearly wanting this to be over, "is that why you came by? To thank me for the flowers?" She tilted hypnotically again and looked hopeful. If not for the certainty of great pain, Gary would have laughed in her face. Instead, he moved his head gently around from right to left, and back again in a very slow negative. He took off his sunglasses and stuffed them into his front pocket.

"Is Tommy around? I gotta talk to him."

"Now," she began with a warble, the apron losing ground, "I don’t think that’s a very good idea."

"No," said Gary, "I bet you don’t."

A hulking shadow appeared in the doorway behind apron-lady.

"Who is it, Mom?" asked little Tommy Wournok in a deep, dull voice. The woman of the house made a space and her colossal son filled it, and then some.

Little Tommy Wournok, six-foot-two, two hundred and fifty pounds, had hardly needed help to beat the crap out of Gary, whose pre-hospital weight was about a buck twenty soaking wet. Now Gary fluctuated between an even hundred and about one-oh-five or six. And little Tommy had had help, whether he had needed it or not.

"Oh. It’s you," he grunted.

The doctors (a couple of them, anyway) had said that the only thing that had kept Gary alive was nothing at all. They had said he’d been damned lucky, and they’d meant it. He should have died. He’d come into the hospital on a gurney, with broken ribs, punctured organs, separated vertebrae, shattered limbs, and a brain held in place by little more than wishful thinking.

"Whadaya want?" Tommy grunted again.

"You know," Gary tilted his head gently to one side and searched the front step for an answer. "I dunno."

"Huh." Was that a laugh or another grunt? Tommy opened the screen door and Gary stood back to let him. For some reason, the flimsy aluminium was in the way and Gary thought it was a good thing that Tommy should get it out from between them, but he had no idea why. It had one of those pneumatic latch things, so it stayed open when Tommy let go of it. Gary didn’t know if this was a good thing or not.

"Maybe I can help you remember." Tommy grinned around the words, his tiny, close-set eyes twinkling slightly, and his meaty mits clenching into fists the size of pot roasts. Mrs. Wournok protested feebly from somewhere behind him.

"No, wait," Gary said, putting up a hand, distracted again. "I think I’ve got it." He reached behind his back and pulled out a blue steel .45 automatic. Tommy’s eyes lost their twinkle. "Oh yeah," Gary said. "That’s right."

Mrs. Wournok caught sight of the gun and screamed. High pitched and long winded, just like they always did in the old monster movies. Benji had said he should expect something like this. Benji wasn’t a doctor, but Gary trusted him, he thought.

"When you skin that heater," Benji had said, "that old broad’s either gonna faint dead away, or scream to wake the whole fucking neighborhood."

He’d been right, but Christ! The noise! Why couldn’t she have fucking fainted?

"Wha? Wha? Wha?" Tommy said, uncomprehending. His mother kept at it. She didn’t even stop to inhale. It was starting to bore through Gary’s mind like an auger on a frozen lake. It made his teeth rattle and he could taste his fillings.

"Jesus Christ almighty! Shut her up, willya?" Gary flicked the gun at her.

"Shut up, Mom."

Benji had mentioned that, too. How a gun got things done by just being seen. "I don’t care who you are," he had said, "someone sticks iron in your face and asks you to do the Funky Chicken with your pants around your ankles, you unbuckle your belt." He had said that, hadn’t he? He might have, but it wasn’t working too well on Mrs. Wournok. The old bat had better lungs than Pavarotti. Gary winced as the ice in his brain yielded to the shrill vocal drill-bit.

"Mrs. Wournok?"

Her face was locked in an open rictus.

"Mrs. Wournok, please stop."

"Knock it off, Mom."

Gary jammed the gun into Tommy’s fleshy cheek. Tommy swallowed hard and began to sweat.

"Mrs. Wournok!" Gary had to raise his voice even to hear himself. He could feel his pulse behind his eyes and the blackness was held at bay by sheer force of will and the knowledge that passing out at this stage in the festivities would be more than Gary’s sense of justice could handle. "If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m gonna paint your front door with the inside of your baby boy’s head!"

That seemed to get through and she wound down like a kettle whose burner had been turned off. Mrs. Wournok ended up sitting on the hall floor, weeping and gibbering, the apron defeated by uninvited reality.

Her screaming had roused Mr. Wournok from somewhere deep in the house (it had to be Saturday). He came in from the room on the right with a newspaper trailing from one hand.

"What the hell is–" he managed before his brain did the math and stopped him cold.

"Hi, Mr. Wournok." Gary waved with his free hand. It was almost too much effort for his ruined senses, but it was worth it for the look on the old man’s clock. "I just wanted a chat with your son."

Mr. Wournok gathered himself up and recalled his drill sergeant, trying to emanate menace. It might have worked if he hadn’t been about three quarters of an inch from dumping a load in his Sans-a-Belt slacks. His voice cracked when he spoke.

"What’s the gun for, young man?" He took a step forward, but Gary clicked the safety off and cocked the gun, so he took the same step back again.

"The gun’s for making sure the chat sinks in." Gary smiled widely at the old man’s greying jar-head. "Call the cops if you want to, but don’t do anything stupid. Okay? Fine." Gary had the idea he wouldn’t see any cops unless a neighbor got jumpy. If the fuzz did show up, Tommy would get a ride downtown too, and Mr. Wournok didn’t need that. What would his buddies at work say? The old man swallowed hard. Sweat ran down Tommy’s face like a rapid thaw.

"Come outside and play, Tommy."

Tommy adopted a look of intense indecision, like a gorilla buying insurance. Gary took a step back, removing the gun barrel from Tommy’s fat cheek. It left a mark shaped like a light bulb: the closest Tommy would ever get to bright idea. Gary gestured with the gun.

"C’mon."

Tommy took a small step forward. His father dropped the newspaper. It landed in a little tent between his right foot and his shuddering heap of a wife. Gary glanced at the headlines, but they meant nothing to him.

"You don’t have to do this, son," Mr. Wournok said. Neither Tommy nor Gary knew which one of them he was addressing. Tommy looked around with a guilty, strangely sad look that made Gary pity him for all of two seconds. Then Gary forgot all about it.

"Hurry up, Gigantor. I ain’t got all day."

Tommy eased past him, down the step and into the driveway. Gary followed, praising Benji and his certainty that maintaining control with a gun in your hand was easy. Gary made a solemn promise to himself never again to be out of reach of a handgun. Then he forgot that too.

They reached the bottom of the drive and Tommy stopped. Gary looked back at the house. He could see the Wournoks still in the same positions: her with breath hitching in and out and pendulous snot dangling unattended, and him like a dazed government issue mannequin standing over a discarded ‘Times’.

"What now, Buttwipe?" Tommy said, possibly indignation creeping in, possibly the habit of a lifetime.

"You’ll feel that later."

"Whatever. You’ll never get away with this, you know."

"You think I give a shit about that, you’re almost as dumb as you look. Why the hell did you think I told your dad he could call the cops?"

This angle hadn’t occurred to Tommy. His confused gorilla popped up again. His experience and world-view were too narrow to extend to people who didn’t care about being caught by the police. It did take in people who were too stupid, or lacked necessary foresight, to see that what they were doing might be viewed as felonious, but managed to get away with things through divine good fortune and ‘New Improved TIDE with Added Stain Removers’. In fact, Tommy had discussed this very phenomenon with his father. Or rather, his father had impressed the relevance of it on Tommy with fervent insistence, when he had come home splashed with Gary’s blood and offered no reassurance beyond, "Don’t freak out. It’s not mine." But, what was happening now was calculating, and Tommy had no understanding of any facet of calculation.

"That your car?" Gary asked, standing over his duffle bag and pointing with the gun to the sleeping bulk beneath the grey car cover. Was that there a minute ago? He couldn’t remember. Tommy swallowed hard again.

"Yeah. So?"

"So." Gary waved the .45 again. "Whip it out."

Tommy looked sideways at Gary. He didn’t like the way this was going, but another flash of gunmetal got him to the curb. He dug into his pocket and brought out a key ring. Then, he got down on one knee and unlocked the cable that ran under the car and kept bad guys from stealing the cover.

Gary wanted to shake his head at the pointlessness of such a device, but the pain asked him nicely not to.

Tommy rolled the cover back like a big jelly-roll, slowly revealing a smoke grey ’69 Chevy Camaro SS. Gary hated to admit it, but it was a damned nice car. It looked like it wanted to run you over, but it looked good, too. It was well loved, to be sure.

Looking at the car sitting in the cool Saturday (was it Saturday) morning sun, minding its own business, Gary felt a touch of pity again. He had almost no recollection of how or why he’d wound up in the hospital, just shadowy ideas of punk-ass, teen-aged nonsense, but he was sure that the car had nothing to do with it. It was the kind of car that, given different circumstances, Gary would want to own just to sit and look at it. It really was in good shape. A strange sensation came into his head then, and swam around in the pain. Gary felt his eyes water up before he knew what was happening. And then, as quickly as it had come, the sorrow evaporated and anger condensed in its place.

He wasn’t angry that his life had been twisted around like some fucked up Rubik’s Cube; most of the things he used to do didn’t make sense to him any more, so he didn’t miss them. He wasn’t angry about missing so much school, which was a big deal to a kid like Gary, or a kid like Gary used to be. Besides, he’d had a good enough record that the staff had gone sympathetic and graduated him a couple of days ago. He didn’t even miss the computer club or the kids in it. The screens fucked with his equilibrium.

The one thing that did piss him off was what the whole mess had done to his folks. His parents both worked hard, they didn’t deserve this shit. They worried about the changes in their son’s attitudes, about his new friends, and about his head. Like any parents, they wanted to swaddle him, but he was so frail now, they worried they’d break him if they tried. It wasn’t fair that those who had done their best should be saddled with so much misery, like a pair of sagging Yukon pack donkeys.

Nor was it fair that the bastard who had caused it all should have a car like that, a fucking cherry bucket if ever there was one.

"You might get mad, Slim," Benji had said. Benji called him Slim. Didn’t he? "But you control your anger. Otherwise, you won’t pull this off. Or, maybe you pull it off a bit too much, if you get my meaning. And you don’t need that. Not yet anyway."

Gary concentrated and the pain rolled back in and washed over everything else. His anger was controlled.

"You know," Gary said. "I’ll give you this much, Wournok, you neck-less fucking Neanderthal. You’ve got a wicked ride." Tommy might have smiled a milimetre or two, but it was gone too quickly for Gary to be sure.

"So?"

"So, what’d you pay for it?"

"Fifteen hunnert," Tommy shrugged. Then an idea flashed across the wasteland of his mind and fear flashed with it. "You ain’t gonna steal it, are ya?"

"No," Gary said, not shaking his head. "No, I’m not going to steal your car. Still though, Fifteen hundred bucks isn’t much for a ’69 Camaro, is it?" He sat down on the pavement, gingerly, and unzipped his bag. Then he remembered something and waved the gun at Tommy.

Tommy sat down too.

"I said, fifteen hundred’s not much, is it?"

"No," Tommy began. Whether his nerves got the better of him, or he couldn’t resist talking about his car, Gary didn’t know or care, but talk Tommy did. Gary used the break to poke around in his bag and remind himself what he’d brought.

"She wasn’t like this when I bought her. I mean, the chassis was all right, but that was about it. Me and the guys from autoshop rebuilt the engine and gearbox. The chrome was a bitch, and the welds on the exhaust. The seats I got lucky with. There were two good front ones sitting in the office of a junk yard out in the sticks. They came out of a ’68 that got t-boned. The back seat had a blanket over it for the last twenty years, so alls it needed was some Armour-all. The paint was the worst. No, the chrome was the worst, but the paint… well, there was just more of it, I guess." He trailed off when he noticed that Gary was looking at him with an odd grin. Tommy blushed and examined the grass.

"Mister Tilley help you with all that?"

Tommy looked up, mouth sprung.

"You know Mister Tilley?" he asked the boy with the gun.

"Yeah, I’ve got him for drafting. Well, I had him for drafting, anyway."

"Oh."

"I hear he knows a lot about cars."

"Yeah. He does."

"That’s something, I guess. He doesn’t know shit about drafting."

Something small and fleeting passed between the boys then, something not unfamiliar to either of them, something common between them. Then, it was gone, not because Gary forgot about it, but because those days were over. And, despite everything he’d had to put up with, not just the past couple of months, but everything, Gary wouldn’t have them back, not for anything or anybody. He was here to take care of business, not to hold hands and build tree houses. His beating had been like a death. His recovery, an incubation. This was a birth. His life began today. A doctor had said that grandiose feelings like these were a normal side effect of such severe trauma to the brain. The bastard.

"What’s it worth now?" Gary asked.

"I dunno," said Tommy, failing miserably at nonchalance.

"Bullshit." Gary levelled the gun at Tommy.

"Mr. Tilley said he knows a guy who’ll give twenty grand."

Gary considered for a few seconds. "It’s not as much as I’d hoped, but it’ll have to do."

"Do for what?"

"Do you have any idea how much decent medical treatment costs?" Gary was looking into his bag again.

Tommy opened his mouth to answer, but checked himself. "No," he said slyly.

"My dad owes one hundred and fifty-two thousand dollars. He got an itemised bill. Did you know they charge you for piss-pots? It costs five bucks to piss in the hospital."

"Don’t he got insurance?"

Gary sighed. "Yes, he’s got insurance, Brainiac. He owes a hundred and fifty-two grand after insurance."

Tommy tried to put two and two together. "Are you gonna steal my car and sell it?"

Gary left that one unanswered. Mr. And Mrs. Wournok were right where he’d left them, frozen in relentless reality. Still no cops. Still no neighbors. Not even a jogger, but it was early, Gary guessed. He got slowly and carefully back on his feet, but still felt every milimetre and nanosecond. He clutched a half-dozen spare clips for his pistol in his free hand.

"What’s your baby’s name?" he asked.

"Kendra," Tommy blurted out, and went as red as V8.

"Kendra?" Gary asked with some reservation. Then, he shrugged, almost. "Whatever."

He raised the gun and put a slug through the centre of the windshield, sending the rear-view mirror into the back seat. With the recoil came a wave of pain like a rocket sled, up his arm and into his skull. He saw a swarm of gnats that he knew weren’t there.

Tommy ran to the car muttering, "babybabybaby" on a continuous loop. He leaned over the hood and spread his hands around the bullet hole and the spider-web cracks advancing from it, possibly trying to smooth it or caress it better.

Mrs. Wournok, awakened by the shot, heaved herself out the door with a spooky swiftness, shrieking a cartoonish, "Nooooooo!"

Gary fired one over her head; another rocket sled, more gnats. The porch light exploded and showered the panicked housewife with glass and tin. She fainted; her momentum carrying her down the steps and onto the grass, face first, staining the apron with grassy skid-marks. Gary had an idea that he wanted to laugh at this, but his head vetoed it. Mr. Wournok hadn’t moved, but his eyes were shut tight.

Tommy blubbered over the windshield, unmindful of his mother’s nosedive.

"Out of the way, fuckwad."

Tommy shook his head violently, sending a viscous cocktail of tears, sweat, spit, and snot arcing out in several directions. "You’ll have to kill me," he choked out.

Gary pointed the gun at Tommy’s head and fired. He missed by a good ten inches, but his point was made. Tommy sunk back to the grass and sat with his head in his hands.

"Why?" he wailed.

"Don’t be so stupid. You wanna thank me for not burning your fucking house down."

Gary put four rounds, in quick succession, into the radiator. The last shot caught the hood release and Joe Tilley’s auto shop handiwork was revealed to the Saturday sun (was it Saturday?). Shining chrome reflected a funhouse Gary back at him. Yellow anti-freeze gushed from the perforated radiator. Gary reloaded, dropping the empty clip into the open duffle bag. He glanced around at the neighborhood again.

His shooting had done what Mrs. Wournok’s screaming had not. A few Weekend-Dads and Soccer-Moms stood on their porches and in their driveways, wearing big shorts or old jeans or sweat pants, looking around to find the bottle-rockets, maybe.

One guy, about three doors down across the street, looked straight at Gary for a full ten seconds before understanding dawned in his head. Then, he turned and sprinted back into his house and slammed the door.

Gary gave himself another five minutes, at most. He turned back to his task.

Tommy let out another pitiful plea, which was drowned by a hail of gunfire.

Gary emptied a full magazine into the engine at various angles. He reloaded again and made his way systematically around the once pristine car, blasting windows and blowing tires, and being particularly mindful of the gas tank. He didn’t want to peak too soon.

Benji had said to pay attention, not let his emotions run away with him. "And keep your eyes on Baby Huey," he’d said. "‘Cause if he gets hold of your goody-bag, the show’s over."

By the time the .45 clicked, Gary had lost track of how many times he’d recharged and discharged. Kendra looked like something you might find in some overgrown corner of a hillbilly’s backyard with a family of possums living under the dash and a sapling oak sprouting from the engine compartment. But Gary wasn’t done yet.

The ringing in his ears was constant and sounded uncomfortably like approaching sirens. His arm felt like taffy and when he dropped his spent clips and the gun into his bag, it was with a pang of apprehension that he took out the shotgun.

"Oh, God. Please stop," said Tommy, in what sounded like a whisper, but could have been a shout. The pain in Gary’s brain had become a physical thing, which threatened to grow until it split his head like a honeydew melon. Already, it had plugged his ears.

"I think I’ve heard that somewhere before," Gary replied. He pointed the twelve-gauge, pump-action at the raised hood and fired once. He staggered backwards, just managing to keep his feet under him; he’d never used a shotgun before. It blew a hole the size of a cheeseburger in the hood and wrenched one of its hinge springs so that now it gaped at a jaunty angle.

Gary’s arm protested. His head added the pain to its list. The gun had no shoulder stock (if it had, it wouldn’t have fit in the bag) and Gary didn’t think he could manage another shot, let alone a reload or two. He took a deep breath and pumped another shell, with his good arm. He’d come this far. He could rely on that wounded sense of justice to get him the rest of the way. He might have counted to ten, if he thought he could manage it.

He circled the car again, slowly, blowing five more big holes in the doors and panels. In the end, the batteries of righteousness allowed a reload, and he put a few holes in the interior.

Mr. Wournok had moved out onto the porch, possibly secure enough in the knowledge that his son wasn’t in pressing danger to rubberneck on his comeuppance, possibly just in a stupor.

Gary could definitely hear sirens now. He went back to the bag and replaced the shotgun, taking out a big flat-head screwdriver, and a bigger ballpeen hammer. He held his tools in his bad hand and dragged the bag with his good. Tommy sobbed with gusto.

Gary’s watch beeped and he remembered a couple of things: first, that he was wearing a watch, and second, that his ride was coming. He looked up in time to see a sedate new mini-van screech around the corner like something out of ‘Starsky & Hutch’. He smiled and sized up the gas cap. Locked.

Gary wedged the screwdriver in under the cap and smacked it once, twice, thrice with the heavy hammer, popping it free to clatter on the pavement. He put his tools back and pulled out a small soft sided cool-box, just as the mini-van skidded to a stop behind him. He looked around and saw Benji leaning out the side door and remembered how he got his nickname.

"Whadaya say, Slim?" Benji’s shoulder length, shaggy, dirty blonde hair and free roaming beard and moustache made him a dead ringer for the cuddly little dog who’d rescued a bunch of kids, or something, repeatedly in a handful of movies in the ‘70s.

"Hey, Benji," Gary said, unzipping the bag and wincing at the smell it belched out.

Benji got out of the mini-van and any similarities to a little furry dog evaporated. If Tommy was Gigantor, Benji was King Kong himself; six foot five and certainly near three hundred pounds, his beer gut was a hard, vast sphere beneath his ‘Motorhead’ T-shirt and greasy leather jacket. He had a pronounced limp and dragged one engineer boot by a stiff leg.

"Christ on a crutch, Slim, but you fucked up that boy’s car." Benji looked to the driver’s seat of the mini-van and Fill, another hairy giant, whistled and raised Ray-Bans over veined eyes.

"The kid’s a natural," said Benji.

"Fuckin’ A," said Fill.

Gary had gotten to know Benji and his cohorts quite well over the past eight weeks or so, and he knew Fill to be a man of few words, though most of those words were some variant of one form of carnal activity or other.

Physiotherapy had been arduous at the best of times and it had often taken three or four of Benji’s buddies to get him into the hospital, wheelchair or no wheelchair. Once he was there though, it was Gary who made him stay. The two had developed a bond through mutual suffering that was akin to the brotherhood and camaraderie felt by combat veterans. Benji thought of Gary as his ‘Jiminy Cricket’, and Gary was the only person living who’d seen Benji weep. They both accepted as given that they had been joined spiritually by their common experience, though neither would have described their relationship in such lofty terms.

Tommy got to his feet and Benji took a step towards him. Gary put a hand on his thick arm.

"Leave him, Benji. He’s had a rough morning."

For his part, Tommy seemed to be concentrating on a little mantra, which he churned out in a hoarse groan: "It’s okay. I can fix you. Don’t worry baby. It’s okay. I can fix you. Don’t worry baby."

Mr. Wournok stared like a zombie. Mrs. Wournok slept with her face in the dirt.

"Shame," Benji said, looking around at the lawns and the witnesses. "Nice neighborhood." He scooped up the bag and got back in the mini-van.

Gary dug in his pocket and pulled out a brass Zippo. He snapped the lid open and thumbed the wheel, raising a sizeable flame. In his other hand, he held a wine bottle half-full of gasoline; a soaked bandage was its cork. A similar bandage snaked from the gas tank to the ground. Gary held the bottle over the lighter and the flame jumped before contact was made.

Mr. Wournok’s zombie trance was broken. He ran down the steps, trod upon his unconscious wife’s buttocks, and ran toward his son, who was trying to get the ruined air filter to stay in place while mumbling his mantra, "Don’t worry baby."

The sirens were louder now.

Gary dropped the bottle and stepped into the mini-van. Fill got rolling immediately and Gary clambered to the back seat to look out the window.

The looky-loo neighbors were all turning tail and ducking and diving. Mr. Wournok heaved Tommy backward onto the grass.

The flame spread from the pool in the broken glass and sped up to the tank. The car vanished and was replaced by a huge ball of orange flame. Gary felt the noise as a physical thing, which tried to crush his brain. The huge ball of orange flame vanished and was replaced by a flurry of used auto parts, which rained down on the normally quiet street. Gary could see several windows implode; this was unfortunate, as they weren’t all on the Wournok’s house.

As the mini-van turned the corner, the first cops came into view. They’d be occupied for hours before they thought to look for anyone suspect. This sort of thing didn’t happen in Springfield, and there was no way these cops were prepared for it. The most action they usually saw was at the burger joint after a football game and the kids from Big City started picking fights.

Gary turned around and put on his seatbelt. "You got some water, Benji?"

"Sure thing, Slim." Benji handed him a cold Perrier. Gary fished a prescription bottle out of his shirt pocket. His head hurt like a motherfucker and his arm felt like a pincushion.

"How you feelin’?" Benji asked.

Gary thought about it. "I dunno."

"Don’t worry about your old man," Benji continued. "We’ll get him squared away in, what? Two months?" He looked at Fill.

"Two and a half."

"Two and a half months. The important thing is, did you enjoy yourself?"

Gary thought again. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."

Benji smiled and his countenance warmed significantly. "Out-fucking-standing."

Gary took out a filter-less Black Cat and lit it with his Zippo.

"Shit," he said, remembering suddenly. "What about my car?" Benji laughed.

"Duff and Emperor Shemp have it. They’re gonna meet us at the mall. We’ve got to get this heap back before it’s missed. Then we’ll take you downtown. Go to Frito’s. Get some steaks."

"Out-fucking-standing," Gary said in a woozy voice. Fill started to laugh, but Benji shushed him. Gary was fast asleep.

"It’s alright," Benji whispered to Fill. "The doctor said a bit of narcolepsy’s common for a case like Slim’s." He took Gary’s cigarette from his slack fingers and smoked it himself.


© Copyright 2017 robhart. All rights reserved.

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