The Kid by Mark Cowling

The kid was driving. Enrique. He was new but there was no one else I’d want behind the wheel. He did nothing erratic, nothing impulsive. Steady speed — neither too fast or too slow. Just a nondescript truck cutting through the backstreets of Oakland.

I sat in the passenger seat, skimming a thick college book I’d found in the back. Geotechnical engineering, whatever the fuck that is. I couldn’t sit still so was glad to have something to do with my hands. I pretended to read a random page, as good a reason as any not to talk to the kid.

Enrique was glancing over at me every few seconds, making me even more nervous. Not today. I needed everything to be nice and smooth today. He looked my way again, his brow creased, dark eyes burning into me.

We stopped at a red and Enrique turned to face me.

“I’m taking a course,” he said, nodding at the textbook. “At the community college.” The kid looked at me like a boxer stares down his opponent pre-fight.

“Good for you, kid,” I flicked through the frayed pages again, all bricks of text with weird math, the kind with more letters than numbers. I managed to force a smile. “Good for you.”

The unbearable tension in the truck lifted. Enrique smiled, a large joyful grin he couldn’t suppress. Suddenly he looked like his nineteen years. He shouldn’t be here. And in another life he wouldn’t be. He’d be in some dorm, his biggest concern being where to pin the John Lennon poster.

“It only starts next month, but I already covered half the reading list. Every spare minute I study some more.” As the lights turn green, Enrique moves us away. I’ve never heard him speak like this before; the kind of way some guys talk about their football team when they win. “It was tough at first, but now I love it. I want to learn more. Learn everything, you know?”

Just as suddenly, he’s quiet again, glancing my way. Thinking about whether he can open up to me now. The answer is, no. Whatever it is, Kid, don’t tell me.

“You met Maria, right? My girl?” He’s smiling again, even broader than before. “She’s pregnant.”

• • •

We sat a few feet away from the East Bay Burger stand in McCullen’s beat-up Camry. If you want the old man to shut up long enough to get your point across, shovel some of East Bay’s finest, extra cheese, into his pasty Irish face.

“There must be a way to make this work. We get what we need and the kid’s okay,” I said as McCullen extracted an errant pickle. “The other day I caught him reading this weird Jap cartoon shit. All blood and guts and giant eyed girls in sailor outfits. He’s a geek. Just a kid.”

I stopped speaking as McCullen sucked hard on an extra large cherry coke, producing a noise like a jet engine firing up.

“We cannot risk the work we’ve put into this. Two years for you.”

“They’re going to kill him. You understand? They’ll kill him,” I said. McCullen balled up the empty burger wrapper and then finally turned to listen fully. “And this is on us. They think he’s responsible for the bust.”

“It is not on us,” McCullen replied. “This is not on us. We had nothing to do with them fucking up. It’s a coincidence. You think I’d put the whole operation at risk for a few possession arrests?”

“So now we let this kid–”

“Screw him. Did he think he was joining the boy scouts? We continue as planned. And you can leave this out of your reports. All of this stays out.”

I tried desperately to think of anything I could say or do. “They want me to take him there next week. We’re supposed to drive out there in the truck. Like it’s a standard pick-up. I wait out in the street and he goes in. How can I do that?”

“You do it.”

I watched Enrique walk away from the truck, tapping some message into his cell as he ambled away. The kid was halfway up the rusted staircase that led to the warehouse office when I popped open the truck cab’s door. I hit the horn with the heel of my hand and left it there.

Fuck you, McCullen.

Tony De Luca’s Fuckin’ Bucket List by Mark Cowling

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[et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text”]“Go fuck yerself,” croaked Tony De Luca, an exertion that led directly to a three minute spell of coughing, before the old man hacked up and spat out a cocktail of blood and mucus — a parting gift for the kind staff of South Woods State Penitentiary, New Jersey. “Hope you enjoyed your stay, Mr De Luca,” he repeated in a high, winy voice. “Fuckin’ wiseguys.”

Fucking wiseguys also summed up what the octogenarian former convict thought of the parole board. Year after year they turned down his lawyer’s every application. Until now. Now that his lungs were riddled with cancer and his mind was shot.

But still, there was time to settle some scores. Tony De Luca had his bucket list. Although instead of swimming with dolphins or visiting the great pyramids of Giza, his list contained only names. Names of past acquaintances and former friends he’d like to have a quiet word with.

Tony De Luca hobbled away from the prison gates. First, he would go get himself a decent shave and haircut – he might be dying, but he was still a man.

“Fuckin’ wiseguys.”

 

A perfect stream of piss fell on the earth before De Luca. The old man was pleased; he hadn’t pissed this freely for years. One steady, yellow stream.

It’s not that De Luca hadn’t played a part, if not a major role, in the disappearance of many unfortunate souls in the Garden State. He had. But the murder that had seen him sent away, that of Robert Heinz, wasn’t one of his. And he’d be damned if he was going to take the rap without making those responsible pay.

He had already located the first name on his list: Christopher Caputo. At least, he had located what was left of the rat.

Tony De Luca zipped up. A dark patch of earth lay in the shadow of Caputo’s headstone. This would have to do.

 

Franco Neri opened the garage door with its remote and edged his new Suburban out onto the drive. It was then that he saw an old man bent double, trying his best to cough up a lung.

With an electronic whirr, the driver’s side window lowered.

“Neri, you rat-bastard, son of a bitch.”

When Franco retold this story at the club later that night, he made reference to his cat-like reflexes. But in truth, Tony De Luca raised the gun so slowly and so feebly, that Franco Neri had time to complete a moderately difficult crossword if he wanted before springing the car door open and sending the firearm clattering to the floor.

“I’m gonna kill you, you piece of shit,” said De Luca in what was little more than a rasping whisper.

Neri grabbed the old man, more to hold him upright than to restrain him.

“De Luca?  What are you… We’ve been looking for you everywhere. The fucking guy from the retirement villa was late. When he turned up, the moron guards had let you wander off.”

“You piece of shit. You think you can pin that murder on me. Think you can let me rot… let me rot in prison…”

Franco Neri picked up the gun.

“Jesus Christ. You killed that poor bastard, remember? The cops had to drag you off his body. He’d been dead for over ten minutes and you were still pounding away on the guy.” Neri was starting to feel something close to pity for what was left of this pathetic man “Get in. I’ll take you to the home.”

 

Franco Neri had no trouble putting the encounter with De Luca out of his mind. A week later and his full attention had returned to his primary retirement preoccupation: gardening. After all, if anyone deserved the grim fate in store for De Luca, then De Luca was that man – that innocent guy he beat into an unidentifiable mound of meat certainly wasn’t the first. As Neri worked his chainsaw over the hedge, he considered that De Luca was lucky to have forgotten so many of the grisly acts he committed.

This was to be the last clear thought to form in Neri’s mind. His remaining few seconds of life were spent dazed on the ground, blood pouring from where he had been struck on the head, barely conscious of a figure nearby struggling and then succeeding to restart the chainsaw.

 

The staccato roar of the chainsaw died out abruptly, leaving in its place only birdsong and De Luca’s violent coughing fit. The old man dabbed his brow with an Italian silk handkerchief which he then folded with care and placed back in his jacket pocket.

De Luca spat at the mutilated corpse before him. “Your buddy Caputo will get his next, you ratbastard.”[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column]
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