Tony and I go back a long way. Beating up kids for their lunch money. Breaking into lockers. Cheating on tests - him off of me because the stuff came easy - hot-wiring cars, joy-riding. When we graduated we celebrated by picking up a couple of 25s and began knocking off bodegas. We didn't need no jobs. But the last place, it got too close. We almost got offed, ourselves. I had to put a stop to it.
A month or two later, Father Vincent caught up with me outside St. Raphael's. Took me aside, said I had to atone. Had to apologize and pay back. By then my old man found me a job on a moving van. It was hard work, tough work, lifting, carrying, climbing up and down stairs all day. I made good money, worked steady, especially with all the yuppies moving into Astoria. Yeah, I could've stolen things. Stuff falls off trucks, you know. But I didn't.
Every day I got up early so I had to cut way back on drinking and reefer and coke. I worked five, sometimes six days a week, so I was able to save more than two grand by Easter. My parents weren't charging me rent, yet - said I should get on my feet first - but I'd have to start kicking in soon. They were more than fair, pretty decent, in fact, especially after all the shit I'd put them through.
I caught up with Tony in the park on 52nd. He was working through a six-pack, right out in the open. "You wanna beer?" he asked.
"Okay. Sure." I popped the top. Nice and cold. Went down just right. Boy, I sure missed that - drinking, hanging out. We sat watching the black kids playing basketball.
"Listen, Tony," I began. "We've gotta make some things right. Those bodegas. I don't feel good about what went down."
"So waddya wanna to do? Give them their money back?"
"Uh, yeah. That's exactly what I want to do."
He sat, sipping. Crushed the can and tossed it over to the garbage pail. Missed. Cracked open another. Said, "You're out of your fuckin' mind. You know that?"
"All I know is we gotta do something."
"Well whyn't you go right ahead."
He took a couple of swigs, lit a Marlboro. Didn't offer me one. I knew there was nothing I was going to get him to do and I didn't want to push it. When he gets angry, he gets crazy. One reason we had got along was I could calm him down and keep him calm. Otherwise, he might have gone apeshit. And no one needed that.
Today, after dinner, I count out six hundred, stick it in my back pocket, take the Q45 over to the bodega on 80th. It was the first place we hit; we got about three hundred bucks. When I get there I just want to turn around and run the hell away. But I don't. In my head is Father V, nagging me.
I pull the door open and walk in.
The owner stands behind the counter. A Korean guy, old, but with them you can never tell. He narrows his eyes, then, "Hey! I know you. I 'member." He reaches under the counter. Pulls out a shotgun. Black, with a pistol grip. Points it at me. "You rob. Take my money."
I raise up my arms, hands open. "Listen, Mister. I'm sorry about all that. Sorry for the grief I put you through. I'm here to apologize." Father Vincent's words, now my words.
He clicks off the safety. Racks it. Aims again. "You not rob me. Not again."
"Wait a minute. Stop. I've got something for you." I bring down my right arm real slow, reach into my back pocket.
A blast. I'm walloped back. My chest, my right shoulder, there's searing, burning pain. I go down. It's excruciating. I'm gasping for air, can't turn my head. Red liquid flowing out of me. Blood. My blood.
I have trouble speaking. "Why'd you ..."
"You not rob me again. I tell you."
He stands over me. Racks the shotgun again. Aims down at me, barrel pointed at my face.
"Please ... don't ... in my back pocket ... money for you ... to pay you back ... I can't reach it. Go ahead ... take it."
He gets down on one knee, presses the shotgun into my cheek, reaches under and pulls out the cash. Blood's dripping off it.
He stands, holding the wad of bills. Folds them in half and shoves them into his pocket.
He spits on me. Says, "You ... you take more than money. Somet'ing you can't pay back."
"What d'ya mean?"
"My wife. Ever since ... She can't sleep. Can't get out of bed. Cries all time. And you ... you do this to her." He points the barrel down at my eyes.
"No, please ... we didn't mean to ..."
Click, a blast ...
Rev 3 / October 10, 2009
October, 2009 Copyright © 2009, Lloyd B. Abrams