The Perfect Enforcer

Published October 13, 2004

by Pete Wright

Illustrations by Tom Denney

Running again.

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.

enforcer1aWhoa! 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.

pull quoteMy 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 


We were inseparable through high school as we evolved into the men we would become. Through it all was a commitment to raucous times and hellacious nights. We drank together, smoked pot from the same pipe and even snorted a few too many lines through the same straw. We shared everything.

It was only after I entered college that we began to drift apart ... about the same time I started shooting up. "Come on, freak. I got no choice." He falters. If I can turn him in the next two minutes, I'm home free. Ricky doesn't take bribes like some of the guys, but he does have a sense of loyalty.

I shoot the gap. "Remember the time we jimmied the lock on Old Man Franklin's place and drank his beer till the next morning? Remember how pissed he was when he saw what we did? Who took the rap so you wouldn't miss your brother's confirmation?"

"You used that last time, punk. Now let's move."

illustrationOn my left, an enormous shadow grows. It's Floyd's, one of the more sadistic Enforcers Gallow has on his crew. He's ten garages away and struts with an arrogance that makes me sick. "What a piece of shit," I say, watching the fat man's advance, "why do you split your action with him?"

"What he knows," he says, sucker-punching. I hit the pavement hard. "You didn't hear that, Jerzy. I didn't just say nothing."

"No, you didn't say anything, Ricky. I got a lousy memory anyway. If you said something I forgot it by now."

"That's a good boy, Jerzy. I didn't want to hit you, you know."

"Yeah, right. That's why I'm on the ground. Help me up, dickhead."

He leans down, grabs my hand and pulls me up so fast I leave the ground. Touching my side, it feels like he cracked a rib — one of the floating ones at the bottom of the rib cage. I curse as I remember the medical school I had barely begun before I blew it off by falling for the wrong girl and following her into the streets. The day I went broke, she left me for a different schmuck with a bankroll.

Floyd is getting closer, and Ricky tenses. I don't know what the bastard knows, but it's gotta be something good. I've never seen Ricky react with anything but confidence.

"What does this guy have on you?" I ask.

The sedans pull into the alley on both sides, boxing us in. They rumble toward us, two early-nineties Lincolns with tweaked pipes.

"Nothing, man," he tells me as sweat beads on his forehead. "Aw fuck, what's the use? He knows, that's all. That asshole knows and he holds it over my head like a fucking carrot."

"Then what're you gonna do? Take me to Gallow or run with me?" I'm jonesing now that the booze has worn off. I need a fix and I got the money. The Pit is only two blocks away. I can be stoned in less then ten minutes.

"Floyd found out I'm on the take and he's been blackmailing me ever since. I told him to fuck off, I wasn't paying anymore. I think you and I are both in deep shit," he said, looking down the alley.

"Bullshit, man! We can run away. Nobody stops us, man. C'mon, Ricky, pull it together. What the fuck are you turning into a wuss for, man? We can take these pussies. You and me, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember. That's the problem. Those times are over, man. I almost got killed back then, remember?"

"If they're coming after you, why did you ride with them?"

"I didn't. I saw them leaving and followed. Once I recognized the neighborhood, I knew where to find you. I know your pattern."

"My pattern?"

pull quote"You always take the same route. We grew up here, remember? I just put my kickstand down and waited. Five minutes later, you ran right into me. It didn't take much thought."

"So what, you're going to bring me in solo and take all the credit?"

"Yeah, something like that," Ricky says, gauging his situation.

"What if I say you were lying?"

"You wouldn't," he says simply.

"Sneaky bastard. People should learn not to trust you."

"They haven't yet," he says as Gallow's Enforcers close in on us.

"Lord knows I have." As I say this, I see an Uzi barrel poking out of the eastbound car.

"Run!" I shout as I reach under my shirt and withdraw my Bowie knife from its sheath. Bullets pelt the garage over our heads as Ricky bolts through the gate. I throw the knife at Floyd and wait long enough to see the hilt bounce off his shoulder. I'm no good at this game, I think as I take off after my friend.

I hear tires squeal as both cars are thrown into reverse. Those morons are wasted and there's no way either can drive backwards without making a mistake. As if on cue, I hear two crashes. A second later, I clear the fence on the far side of the yard, noticing the open gate as I fly over.

I catch up to Ricky when he ducks behind some bushes across the street. I slide next to him. "What're we stopping for, man? Let's go!" Ricky grabs my arm and pulls me back down.

"Strategy, man. That's always been your problem. You never played the odds. Running's your game. It's stupid. That's why I always caught you when I wanted."

"When you wanted," I scoff, "you caught me when you were lucky."

"If you want to believe that, go ahead," he says. His black hair is matted against his forehead, shadowing his dark eyes. High cheekbones lead to a firm jaw that I know is unbreakable. The bastard cannot be hurt. God knows, I've tried. Lost both times.

"See that, those dorks are cruising past us thinking we're still running. We're probably out to Lunt by now, they think. We're free and clear. You never figured that out. Strategy," he says, tapping his temple.

Usually I'm pissed at Ricky's cockiness, but tonight it serves me well. He's right, though, I never second-guessed the competition. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what to do with Ricky. I'm heading to the Pit and Ricky is a known Enforcer. There's no way I can bring him there.


 I'm too far into my jones to wait so I get up and run. "Where're we going?" Ricky asks, loping easily beside my strained efforts.

"To the lake," I lie, "if we can make it past the Ravenswood tracks, we're good."

I run my heart out while Ricky jogs next to me. Here I was thinking I was in shape and get to be proved wrong by an asshole who I'm helping for some reason. The friends I pick.

"Wait a second!" I say, stopping dead in my tracks. "How do I know you're not leading me into a trap?"

"'Cuz I had you back in the alley, fuckface. You really gotta stop doing that shit, Jerzy. It's fucking with your head."

I don't respond. We start walking down the Morse Avenue sidewalk like a couple of arrogant pigeons. The Pit is less than a block from us. For some reason, I'm emboldened by Ricky's presence as we pass under the blazing lights of the viaduct. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him pull out his piece and check the clip.

"What're you doing?" I challenge, my voice rising an octave despite my attempt to be tough.

"Habit, dude. Don't worry about it."

"Fuck you, man. Put it away."

illustration"Why, you think I'm going to shoot you?" he asks, pointing the weapon at my forehead.

"Don't pull that shit, man. I'm not up for it."

"What's' a matter, man, you strung out?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am! Why do you think I rolled that guy? To give you a reason to exercise? Man, you can be pretty fucking dense sometimes."

"Yeah? I'm not the one who sold his life to heroin. That was you. Given a choice, I'd rather be the straight man with a gun than the junkie with a habit."

"You know something, Ricky? Go fuck yourself. Those goons are long gone, probably lost by now. Take a hike."

"I was kidding, man," he says, tucking the gun back in his waistband. "Lighten up."

"Maybe I don't like guns waved in my face. You ever think of that?"

"I got your point, Jerzy. Knock it off." He goes to the street and, turning, stares at the overgrown jungle that is the Ravenswood line. When we were kids, the man-made knoll was neatly covered by rust-colored stones. Now huge weeds are taking over the rock-strewn slope as the wildness of nature seeks to reclaim what's hers in this paved-over swamp.

"So what're you going to do? Go back to Gallow and ask for your job back?" I ask, assuming we're back on solid ground.

"None of your business."

"Come on, Ricky. It's just a question."

"I told you, none of your fucking business."

"Jesus, you'd think we were never friends. You know, you were almost a dartboard for bullets back there. I had your back."

"I saw it coming," he replies.

I'm tiring of his arrogance and re-consider ditching him somewhere. I want a fix and I know Gary has smack.

It feels like we're alone in the city as we walk across east-side Ravenswood Street like we own it. It's eerie, but I'm jonesing hard and can't do anything about it. Ricky and I have joined again and, for now, there's no way out of it.

"You know something, Jerzy?" Ricky asks like nothing's going on.

I remain mute.

pull quote"I've missed you." He's looking at me like I'm his date for the evening.

"That's nice," I say, expecting to turn around and see his gun pointed at my chest. He's standing there like he's had some profound realization.

"No, really. I miss the fun we used to have together. Remember? We used to have the best time and nobody got hurt. Now, somebody either gets beat up or shot and dumped into the Chicago River. The game's gotten old. I miss what we used to do together."

"Yeah, well, times have changed, old buddy. C'mon, let's go."

"Where are we going?"

"We," I say, "are going nowhere. I got us away from the goons and now we part ways. I have no use for an Enforcer where I'm going. Half these guys are in debt with Gallow for so much they'll never repay him."

"No, take me with you. Maybe a good high is what I've been looking for. Besides," he pauses for a minute, "I've never done it before."

"Done what?" I ask, like a moron.

"Gotten high."

"Get real, asshole. You and I got damned high back in the past. Don't give me that," I say as we walk toward the Pit anyway. My plan is we'll walk past the house and, after I ditch Ricky, I'll go back.

"I've never done heroin. I want to try it. I got the cash to cover us," he tempts.

My greed kicks in and, though I fight it for all I'm worth, I know I'm losing. I don't know how much I have in my pocket and I'm starting to trust my old friend who's offering to pay for my fix.

Logic rears its translucent head. "No deal, man. We're going to Clark Street. I'm watching you walk one way then I'm walking the other. Got it?"

"Okay, fine, dude. You don't want to initiate an old friend into the pleasures of paradise, that's cool. You keep being a self-centered bastard."

For some reason, I think of Ricky's little brother. He was a good kid. A few years younger than Ricky but much cooler and more laid back. He and I knocked a few hits down back in the past. "How's Frankie? Did he go to detox or something?"

Ricky doesn't say anything for a minute. "No, I haven't spoken to him in awhile."

"Sorry." I say through clenched teeth. The juice is leaving my system, sucking the marrow out of my bones, bit by agonizing bit.


illustration

"It's over. Now are we going to get a buzz on, or what?" Ricky asks, pouncing on the change of subject.

"I shouldn't take you there." I waver as common sense battles my addiction. I don't have time for this banter.

"I'm cool, man, really. You can have my gun," he offers.

We're four houses from the Pit. I'm waffling and I know it. I want to trust him.

"That's not it. Everyone there knows you!" I'm at my breaking point. "All right, fine!" I shout. "Gimme your gun. If you're going to party, you're not going to need it. If you're not, I'll have your piece." My instincts are screaming as my jones takes over and I turn into the alley in the middle of the block.

The two-story house is a dilapidated husk of what it once was. All the windows are blacked out and the yard is fenced in. It doesn't want to be part of the neighborhood.

"Come on, give me your piece," I say as we approach the backyard gate. "I don't want you thinking of any monkey-business while we're in there. We're going in for a buzz and some stash and that's it."

"I don't see any problem with that. Here." He hands me his revolver and I shove the cold steel into my waistband.

Descending the few steps to the basement door, I turn the knob and push. A horrible odor spills out to greet us from an area that's blacker than midnight. I fumble for the switch and flip it on. The room is an enclosed junkyard filled with decrepit furniture and scattered crap.

The odor is overwhelming, but I don't see anything that could cause a smell this thick. Ricky covers his nose with the collar of his shirt. "Does it always smell this bad?"

"Not usually," I say, as my addiction pulls me in.

"Man, you junkies sure stink up a place."

I ignore his comment and walk to the stairs. As I ascend, the carpet feels damp and sticky under my shoes. The sound is nauseating and the smell is getting worse. Ricky climbs behind me. The house reeks in the summer, but not this bad.

The door to the first floor is shut. I open it and recoil from a pungency so awful my eyes water. I pull my shirt up to cover my nose and mouth, but it doesn't help. My instincts know what it is, but I ignore them again and look for the light switch.

I can't see anything as I take a step. My foot catches on something and I pitch forward. "What the fuck?" I exclaim as the hallway fills with light. My eyes clear just enough to make out Gary's death mask. I scream and roll off the body. I look up to see Ricky standing at the top of the stairs, his hand on the switch.

"What the ...? I say, backing away.

"I told you I wanted to get high, man. I just didn't tell you I did it a few days ago."

"You did this?"

"Nope. You did. You have the gun."

"What!? What the hell did they ever do to you?"

"Junkies took my brother away. Every time I got him clean, one of you bastards shot him up again. He wasn't the smartest kid in the world. You knew he'd OD sooner or later. Well, you won."

"Did you ...?" I ask, not wanting to know.

"Everyone who was here. They don't even know the difference, man. They were almost dead when I got here. Nobody protested. They just stared at me as I pulled the trigger."

"So why did you want to come here with me?"

"Because you turned him on to this shit. I came here looking for you."

I reach for the gun he gave me. Ricky watches me squeeze the trigger. I could've had more effect with a cap gun. He pulls out his .38. I'm at the mercy of a vindictive, cold-blooded killer. The perfect Enforcer.

I don't know if it's the smell or the realization that I'm trapped, but I retch. Ricky laughs as gallons of bile erupt from my mouth.

pull quoteFurious, my mind is clear as I concoct a plan. Standing straight, I whip the revolver at his face and hit him in the eye. I run at the man and, jumping, land my foot in his chest and knock him down the stairs. He falls in slow motion, fingers grasping for a handhold, but his hands find nothing to stop his fall.

Retrieving the revolver, I descend. Ricky lies motionless on the floor but I see in his good eye that he is terrified. I wipe the revolver clean and close Ricky's fingers around it. I pull the .38 out of his waistband and remove my shirt. Wrapping it around the barrel, I aim at Ricky's chest and fire twice. He expels one final breath as his heart stops pumping anguish through his veins.

Walking outside, I'm nine blocks away from the lake where I can dispose of the gun and clean myself off. Worse still, I'm bare-chested, making the handle visible above my jeans, and the shirt I carry screams guilt.

I think of Ricky's pain over losing his kid brother. What it drove him to do. Two things hit me simultaneously: My father might get that upset over me, and I'm no longer jonesing.

Standing next to Lake Michigan watching the waves, I throw the gun into the forgiving sea and dive in. The shock of the cold water catapults me into full consciousness and I realize what has just happened, accepting the consequences of guilt and loss. Not only am I a murderer but I've killed the only brother I'll ever have. It was in self-defense but, had the decisions I made in the past been more intelligent, this never would have happened. Ricky never passed judgment on what I did. He loved me despite what I did and I never saw that. He loved me until his little brother died from doing the same shit that had overtaken both our lives; his in protecting the distributor and mine in being a hopeless addict.

My body passes through the yielding liquid and I rise to the surface, my eyes are closed but my mind is open. A myriad of thoughts and images race around my head and are replaced by the face of one man. It is to him that I owe my life and a rapidly approaching death through my own choice of destruction. My father does what he does through his own sense of right. My acceptance of his actions makes them right. My rebellion has been painfully long and enormously expensive.

I emerge from the placid water and see the city staring at me from behind a thousand windows. I'm a soaking wet, skinny man with clear eyes and a new purpose.

I rip my shirt into shreds and leave the pieces in a garbage can. A few blocks later, my shoes stop squishing and my pants are dry. It's ten miles to my father's house and I have no idea what time it is.

I start running.

The End

illustration