God, I gotta stop this bullshit, I think as I leap over the chain link fence behind the Martin's house. The barrier I helped erect as a boy stands between the lawn and the alley and unlatching the gate takes time. I ran hurdles in high school and vault the four foot structure with ease.
The moon shines brightly as I sweat out the booze. My steps are sure and soon I'm down the alley and cutting through the yard where I grew up. Their radio is playing loud enough to tell me they're still a half-block behind me on Wolcott.
Whoa! They aren't as stupid as I thought. I see a second sedan trolling Morse Avenue an instant after I leap the fence and burst through the hedges. I throw my momentum into reverse and feel my shoes bite dirt, leaving trails in the soft earth. Not a total loss as it gives me time to catch my breath and realize that I must've gotten a big take if Roland Gallow is sending out two crews.
Five hours ago I was sitting in Mike's Tavern drinking off a week-long high. I was on a tab 'cuz I had shot through my father's monthly guilt check. I would've gotten high anyway, but this time I had a reason. There had been a note in the envelope.
"Jeremy," I hate that fucking name, my name's Jerzy! "I know we haven't spoken in months and I hope this letter finds you well. Please call home when you can. We would love to hear from you. Your sister still has nightmares and would be delighted to know you're alive and well. Love, Dad."
Like there's any fucking way my old man would write a letter like that without coaching. I could see the revisions in each sentence. I imagined what he was thinking during the first version of the story. It probably read something like: "Hey black sheep, stop drinking our money and shooting our love down the toilet. Come home and sober up. We all love and cherish you and make you feel like a horse's ass for not knowing how to handle yourself in public." The subtext would read: "Shape up and toe the line, boy! When I was your age, I listened to my father and made something out of myself! I didn't become a junkie and throw the family name down the drain just to rebel against something. You're twenty years old, for the love of God, knock off this crap and come home. Your Father."
It's a good thing I left home when I did. Otherwise I'd have killed the bastard and these checks wouldn't come every four weeks. As I recall his words for the umpteenth time, my breathing slows then quickens as memories come flooding back.
Of all the idiots Gallow has working for him, he picked a good one with Ricky.
My father comes home and drops his briefcase. My mother meets him at the door with his gin and tonic. God help her if she doesn't. Mr. High and Mighty will look at her like she's a tumor because she is actually doing something unrelated to him at his moment of arrival. He's a prick. We all know it. I'm the only one who is willing to do something about it. I've told him to go fuck himself so many times I've lost count. I've even thrown his gin bottle at him to give him a head start. I think that was the last time I saw him. I'm not sure. I have nightmares when I sleep and, when awake, can't distinguish where memory begins and the horror ends.
After the shakes passed, I re-read the letter. Then, I needed the needle again. That required cash. I knew Gallow's corners and bounced a vendor I knew was a pushover. After making off with his bankroll, I just wanted to get to the Pit and get stoned. The bum called his boss. Within minutes, I had Enforcers on my tail.
The sedan passes and I creep to the curb. A look both ways down the street reveals the black swath between cars lit hodgepodge by street lamps. Confident I'm alone, I stand and see Ricky sitting on his motorcycle. I freeze. "Where the hell did you come from?" I ask as the six-foot-tall man grins.
"I'm a ghost. Are we going to make this easy or difficult?"
I answer by taking off. Ricky's only caught me twice, and both times I've regretted it for as many weeks. I thank God for the short break, even though I know it'll be a one-sided race. Of all the idiots Gallow has working for him, he picked a good one with Ricky.
In a second, I'm flying through the gangway and back into my old backyard. As I prepare to vault the fence into the alley, I feel his vice-grip on my shoulder yank me off my feet.
"You're a fucking punk, Jerzy! You know that?" Ricky yells, towering over me.
"Yeah, and you're an asshole." I say, standing up.
"Today's your lucky day. I don't get to beat you silly."
"Oh? Lucky me. Why don't you tell Gallow you never saw me?"
"Not this time, pal. Let's go." He grabs my arm hard and tries to drag me back into the yard. He seems rushed.
"C'mon, Ricky," I stall. "What's the big deal? So I rolled a junkie to make a buck. That crankhead wasn't planning on bringing back any money to Gallow any more than you have a chance of getting laid on Lake Street."
"Funny man. We'll see about that. Now, don't give me no shit, you're coming with me." He nearly pulls my arm out of the socket as I keep a death-grip on the gate.
All is quiet except for my heavy breathing. The garages, silent half-lit witnesses to my plight, are still. The street lamps cast eerie shadows across the cracked pavement as I struggle within Ricky's grasp.
"Hey, give an old friend a break," I plead, "we used to run together!" It was me and him and, later, his little brother, Frankie.
Ricky and I have been blood brothers since we were kids. We slashed our wrists and pressed the bleeding wounds together at the mature age of ten. The blood we shared as children was our oath to stand up for the other no matter the cost. And nothing was ever going to change. So we thought.
Story Copyright © Steve Wright