by Corey Atherley
I ran away from home the first week of summer.
With my duffel bag strapped across my back, I observed a billboard in North Station displaying the times of commuter rail trains departing for different towns.
With thirty dollars in my pocket that I stole out of my mom's purse, I headed towards the zones and the parked commuter rail trains. Each metal car slid doors on opposite sides letting out a plethora of passengers loathing the crud, pollution and uncleanliness of city life. But what drew my attention were the railroad tracks underneath the cars as they extended into the distance beyond my wildest imagination.
Wandering around daydreaming made me anxious as I searched all platforms for the train to Ipswich to take me away from city life. I then looked over as a chain of cars slowly began to pull out on Zone 1A just in time for me to charge to it and enter.
Once inside the train, I looked down the aisle of crowded seats until I reached an empty row in the rear. I then took off my duffel bag that consisted of a package, a Fed Ex uniform, a clown mask and my cell phone. It was all for a special assignment I would be conducting in Ipswich involving some president of a law firm who stopped making monthly payments on loans. As this was my first day on the job, my boss promised that I would get paid to coerce the son of a bitch into paying his outstanding balances. How, I did not know. I wasn't born into the fucking business to know. But I couldn't wait to earn easy cash at the end of my shift, so long as my boss stuck to the agreement that he was the sole executioner. I was just the message giver with no blood on my hands. No frills, no kills.
Until then, I slouched into my comfortable seat observing the rural landscapes and desolate plains passing by as the train shuffled from Boston to the North Shore.
After a nap, I decided to dig in my duffel bag for my Nokia phone. When I observed the unidentifiable number, I instinctively answered the call and placed it to my ear as my boss whispered his demands. He told me go to a high-rise off of Route 1 in Ipswich and dress as a Fed Ex employee to gain access. Once inside the building, ask the desk security for Frank. Don't worry about his full name. Just Frank. And it was all I needed to know.
"So what should I do with this package you gave me?" I asked. I reached into my bag to unfold a bulky yellow envelope with scotch tape that my boss mailed to my house. It was sloppily wrapped with tape from top to bottom as if it was done by a three year old. Therein I felt something weighty as if it was a block of metal.
"Do you see what I wrote on the package?"
I looked. It was posted with Francis Dimascio's name and address on the top left corner, but addressed to me with a white sticker in the center. And over the entire package was the word: CAPPUCCINO written in black marker. I was so fucking confused.
"Cappuccino is the code," my boss said flatly. I froze.
"I called Frank in his office this morning and had a nice chat with him. I told him that if he was unwilling to make his payments, I'd forget about it. We'll go out for cappuccino."
I couldn't look through the phone to capture my boss's expressions. But I wasn't an idiot. I was schooled about underworld laws and punishments. I read between the lines. I imagined a malevolent grin on my boss's face as he vaguely described the "code". It was up to me to draw a supposition.
"All I need you to do is ask for Frank", my boss continued, "Security will then direct you to the boardroom on the fifteenth floor where Frank is visiting for a meeting. You will then place the package underneath his door. I don't want you to knock. I don't want you to go in the office or do anything else but adhere to my specific instructions to put the package by the door and leave quickly. Clear enough? Listen buddy, your job is to be as indiscreet as possible so that you will not sabotage the procedure. There will be security and surveillance all around, so act calm and professional. Any suspicious behavior will get you arrested. Where the fuck are you now?"
I eagerly took out my knife and put just a small slit in the weighty package to see a glimpse of silver metal and a timer set for midnight. I then froze like a coward. If the bomb went off, injuring or killing hundreds, there would be blood on my hands. And if the plan backfired, I'd take the fall, get thrown in jail and my deceptive boss would avoid me like herpes. But this was all in my head. Minutes went by as I listened to my boss's impatient breathing.
I still hesitated to reply. I looked through the windows at the aesthetic landscape. The train pulled into a station with loads of people standing around with dazed expressions. The conductor announced, "Now boarding Beverly".
"I am at Beverly" I answered. "Two more stops left, I think." My voice carried no strength.
"I got faith in you, buddy. I know you can handle this."
It didn't occur to me that I would get paid tons of money to deliver the explosive. The thought kept me confident and out of the trenches of paranoia.
"You should be fine as long as you deliver that package like I told you. Once you arrive back from the office you will receive your paycheck for this assignment from my enforcer. Expect to meet him on the eight o'clock train heading inbound. Just remember that this is a business. I gotta go so I'll call you later. Alright, pal?" Click.
I forgot to ask how far of a walking distance it was to the office. Not to mention it was off of a highway. How would I walk? If I failed to complete the assignment I would disgrace my boss and lose a paycheck. None of these matters occurred to me as I took my phone away from ear. Therein I shook when I looked up at the vigilant train agent scanning the aisle for new passengers. His frown exuded power. When he walked over to some man sitting beside me and asked for his tickets he took out his stapler from his belt pouch, checked the man's tickets and stapled them to the back of his chair. He then smiled perfunctorily as he came over to me. "Tickets?" he announced, putting out his pale hands. I searched high and low for the cash I stole from mama until I felt relieved finding it in my shorts. "What's the price going one way?" I asked.
At the Ipswich train station, I rushed into the men's room. I changed into the Fed Ex uniform that was my boss's uniform from when he was employed as a driver. Nonetheless it was two sizes too large in shirt, waistline and pant length. I then looked at myself in the mirror: a nigga from a broken home. I then reflected on my new job that I obtained when one of my niggas referred me to an online kingpin down in Cape Cod. From that day forward, I packed my fucking bags. I got the fuck out of Dorchester. I found the time to enjoy Doritos and a Pepsi I bought out of a vending machine. I then looked all around the remote town. No fucking highway was noticeable, not even a main road other than a large parking lot and trees underneath a murky sky.
I steadily looked at my wrist watch that read three-thirty. And after spending time asking for directions and receiving cold responses of shrugs and blank stares, I was deterred. I wanted to turn back, go home, be a good kid, finish high school, and possibly enroll in community college in the future. I kept pacing back and forth.
The front entrance door swung open as a tired state trooper walked in. I was then eager to ask the state trooper for directions. After minutes of thinking, I decided to call a cab instead, and risk spending whatever money it would take me to get to 120 High Street before eight o' clock. Talking to a 'statie' was too risky while I was carrying a device. And I avoided law enforcement at all times to prevent walking in a trap. I wasn't an idiot.
While looking at the meter displaying twenty dollars, I told the cabbie to exit the highway and park towards the 120 High Street building. After observing the high-rise, I then glanced at the cabbie giving me a look and speaking Arabic. Why, I did not know. I then reached through the partition window and handed him the amount for the twenty minute ride. No tip.
I was stunned to discover the revolving doors of the law firm still operating after hours. But I eagerly went through the main entrance. I was prepared to announce myself as a Fed Ex employee as soon as I walked in. But even the main hall was empty with no security or receptionist to check me in. Instead she was lying on the floor, writhing in a pool of her own blood. She had been shot in the groin and blood was gushing out of her like a fire hydrant even when she pressed her hands on her stomach to try and suppress the bleeding. She was screaming while her face, her hair, her blouse and skirt were entirely covered in blood. And all I thought about was that fucking horrible prom scene from the movie, Carrie. She then looked at me as if she saw celestial light, as if I was Jesus coming to save her. Instead I was a nigga from Dorchester with no business being there except to deliver a bomb. Nonetheless, I couldn't save her. I had a job to do. The lady kept screaming for help while gurgling, coughing, choking, and regurgitating blood. I then slipped and sled through the gore as I moved pass the gunned down receptionist towards a gold corridor of swanky elevators.
When I got to the fifteenth floor I immediately walked down the dark eerie hall full of empty boardrooms. I then knocked on a random closed door.
I still heard piercing screams from the dying receptionist downstairs. I kept wiping blood from the bottom of my shoes.
"Fed Ex delivery!" I announced absentmindedly. I knocked once more, only this time the door pushed back leaving me with the assumption that the room was intentionally unlocked or burglarized just minutes before my arrival. I then barged into the office, shattered glass everywhere reflecting the sharp sunlight. While in the room, I scanned the murals, bookshelves and furniture as my eyes settled on a suited man sitting with his face down on a laptop computer. When I went over to pick his head up, his face looked deathly blue and grey as blood gushed out of a dark bullet hole in his throat. I recoiled swiftly from the most hideous shit I've ever seen. But I had a mission to complete. Thus, I kicked aside the pistol near my shoes stained with blood and DNA. And I moved forward.
The smashed office window suddenly made my skin crawl as I walked towards it. Meticulously walking over the broken glass, I then looked down to observe the sleepy New England town from above: old churches, narrow roads, diners, breakfast inns, colonial houses, fishermen loading lobsters on a nearby dock, and the weighty corpse of Frank Dimascio flopped down on the hood of an SUV.
In a matter of minutes, several cruisers were parked as police swarmed the deadbeat president. They drew forensic tape and canvassed for evidence while urging spectators to disperse. "Please step back! There's nothing to see here, buddy", a police captain argued with a bystander. The ambulances then showed up faster than they would arrive in an urban black neighborhood. Doctors rushed out of their trucks with stretchers and telling expressions, faced with the daunting task of pulling the president's smashed face from the bloodied windshield of his vehicle, glass firmly stuck erect from the corneas of his eyes. It was all I could muster before I looked down and puked.
News reporters from all regions came just moments after the ambulances arrived, competing to interview any police officer at their grasp. And when a young detective heard me coughing and gasping from the window, he immediately stopped his interview. He looked up and squinted with the iciest glow in his eyes that made me piss in my uniform.
There was no need to drop off the bomb. I held the package in my hands not knowing what to do with the shit. A notion came to me that the president might've taken his own life and coerced his administration to follow suit rather than face an imminent bomb attack. And to top it off, he saved me the trouble by offing himself and allowing me to walk away with no involvement in the crime. No blood on my hands.
As I heard swift footsteps of policemen raiding the building, clicking their guns, I didn't waste any more time. I ran out of the room in my drenched pants, reached the corridor, noticed a prohibited staircase door that led to a back alley and dashed six blocks up a road to a nearby sports bar.
After sitting lonesome at the rear of the bar eating pizza, I paid a pretty brunette waitress. When she took my money with delight and walked off, I then went up to the owner conversing with wait staff. I asked him about a local cab that would take me back to the train station. He was perplexed as he scanned my bloody, urine stained uniform, my bag, and then observed my coiled brown locks and my face. He knitted his eyebrows as if he wanted to deliver a joke at my expense, but remained chilled. He then said, "I'll certainly call you a cab, buddy. You walked all the way over here or something, buddy?"
I ignored his stupid question.
When the owner dialed, called and glanced at me while talking to a cabbie, I couldn't help but look up at the large screened TVs. More people gathered around the law firm building, with the Ipswich mayor on a split screen solemnly announcing the deaths that included the firm's Vice President and the beautiful, young secretary who stuck in my mind the most. I thought about my boss who forced me to come all the way to Ipswich to engage in a bloodbath and nearly get busted by the cops. But once again, I thought about the money. I envisioned the big fat check I would receive at the end of the day for my services to buy anything I wanted. The fruits of my labor would be solidified. And nothing else, even the gruesome deaths, mattered.
As I arrived at the train station around eight o'clock, I went into the men's room and changed into shorts. When I walked outside, I observed pitch darkness as if danger were to unfold, the wooded area barely visible under a full yellow moon. With my duffel bag in tow, I dug in to reach for my cell phone. And when I felt chilly by a wind, I quickly returned inside the building until my train arrived. Once I heard a loud motor, and the tolling of bells drawing near, I then made a last minute go of getting something out of the vending machine before running for the commuter rail pulling into the station.
In the crowded train I wiggled my way down the aisles of people reading, sleeping, talking on their phones and playing cards. There were no seats left. But by the time I climbed the stairs to enter the second floor of the double decker car, I finally saw empty seats in the front row. While in and out of sleep, I vibrated and felt the train move right under me. Therein I felt a significant tap on my shoulder sending me into a wicked fucking frenzy. When I opened my eyelids, I saw a tall black leather jacket wearing man in a Jason Voorhies ski mask looming over me. The icy blue eyes through the slots of his mask stared into my soul as he sat next to me. He then lifted up his briefcase and opened it with a loud pop that indicated our dealings would be uncompromisingly quick and dispassionate. As soon as he extracted a check from his briefcase with my name written on it, he steadied his gaze waiting for me to make my move in the game of chess. I immediately identified my duffel bag underneath my feet and pulled out the package with the bomb. I then handed it to the masked enforcer who dismantled the explosive and shut off the timer. Singlehandedly I took my paycheck out of his hands. When I viewed the signed handwritten check made out to eight hundred and sixty dollars, I thought about my days as a sucker working for pennies at McDonald's that were long gone. The image of that fateful day storming out and declaring my resignation lifted my spirits until I turned and observed the empty seat next to me. The masked enforcer disappeared without a trace. When the train finally arrived back to Boston screeching into North Station I then looked around in wonder and saw nothing.
"Last stop, no passengers", the train agent warned as he came with his whistle and checked the empty seats. I still gripped my paycheck in my hands and kept staring at it in disbelief.
After cashing my check at a nearby Checks Cashed, I stayed overnight at the Days Inn in Cambridge. I showed my fake I.D to the front desk clerk and paid cash totaling six hundred dollars for seven day occupancy. And I decided to make it my temporary home.
Once I walked into my new room, the first thing I did was dump everything out of my book bag onto the king sized bed. Clothes, sneakers, video games, knives, a clown mask, just about everything. And after I took a quick shower, my cell phone rang. I picked it up. I listened.
"Yeah, wassup." "How you doing, buddy. Listen, uh, first of all, where are you?"
"I'm at the Days Inn on Soldier's Field Road. I tried to deliver the bomb like you told me to do but....." "No need to apologize", my boss said with a heavy, chain-smoking voice. "You did the right
thing by not leaving the bomb at the office. I knew the arrogant jock for a long time. And Frank owed me millions from loans he borrowed to bet on the Pats winning a Super Bowl. That's why he threw himself out of a window. How a filthy rich president of a law firm could kill himself leaving his wife and kids behind like a sick, fucking coward is beyond me. And his unpaid debt, with accrued interest, will fall on his family's shoulders. It will linger over them like a dark cloud until someone pays up. So who's gonna be responsible for paying it? This is where I need you for another task."
I reached for the remote on the dresser next to my bed. I flipped through the TV channels and turned to HBO showing a re-run of The Sopranos. I dozed off, struggling to keep my cell phone steady.
"I want you to listen to me real carefully buddy because this is important. I'm watching the news right now and a wake is scheduled for the dead cocksucka tomorrow afternoon. His whole family and the neighborhood is gonna be there. It's going to take place inside of a church in Swampscott where the guy grew up.
I want you to go to Swampscott. But I don't want you to go anywhere near the wake because it's not the time or place to collect a debt. In certain situations you gotta know when to exercise tact and discretion."
"So whaddya want me to do?"
"Frank has a younger brother named Luigi. He's a hot shot firefighter who usually works six days a week at the Swampscott firehouse with Sundays off. Most likely if he is not at the wake tomorrow he would be at his house or hanging out in a bar. He lives in a large house that is located on Eighty Brewster Terrace on a steep hill, and it's a private, fenced estate, not a residential area. I want you to go there, slide a notice underneath his fence and run like Hell the fuck outta there before he sees you. The fact that you're a colored will make matters worse."
"What does that mean?" I said. I turned down the volume of the TV.
"Hey buddy, don't rip my head off. I'm just giving you a heads up on what you're in for. It's a strictly White community with old money townies of Puritan lineage, and Irish, Greeks and Italians. There isn't one Black or Hispanic person that I know of who lives in that town. So expect to get the O.J Simpson treatment if you do anything stupid. No offense, buddy."
"I'm fucking half White", I asserted.
"know that. But what the fuck is your point?"
There was an uncomfortable pause. Debating my boss was useless.
"Go to Swampscott early tomorrow morning before nine o clock", my boss continued. "You'll need to take the Newburyport line from North Station like you've been doing. And bring your knife just in case you bump into the six foot guy. He's enormous like a fucking running-back with tats all over his neck and arms. If he sees you snooping around, assuming you're an intruder, he's gonna react instinctively combative. Just be on alert. Did you get paid today? I sent my enforcer to pay you."
"Yeah, I got paid." I said.
"Good. I'll get my enforcer on the train to give you the debt notice. Make sure you sit in the first railroad car where he can see you. After that, I may need you to go down to Mansfield and deliver a package of marijuana to Mr. Phan. He owns a Vietnamese restaurant there. I'll be talking to ya." Click.
I threw my phone aside as my empty stomach warned me to put something in it. The lackluster hotel I stayed in rarely served dinner or even breakfast much less complimentary coffee, so I made my way to McDonald's up the parking lot.
In the morning, I wasted no time. The birds chirped. The sky turned into sullen grayness with no sun symbolizing a day of misery of some kind. I got in the shower, brushed my teeth, put on my Celtics jersey over cargo shorts, took the batteries out of the smoke alarm on the ceiling and smoked a fat blunt by the window. I then grabbed what I needed for my assignment and headed out the door.
As I sat on the train heading to Swampscott observing the passing of woods, lakes, and blue hills, I felt a rough tap on my shoulder. And it wasn't a light tap. It was the tap of a killer who murdered in cold blood. When I looked, it was none other than 'Jason Voorhies', dressed in his black bomber jacket in summer weather. Through his hockey mask, he then fixed his blue eyes on me as he handed me the debt notice to deliver to Frank Dimascio's brother. And before I could speak he got up, closed his briefcase and strutted down the aisle.
I got out of the cab in the cloudy morning and finally reached Luigi's house. The "no trespassing" sign on the bars of his black fence and the loud barking of a distant dog halted my pursuit. Outcomes presented themselves, but I stayed focused on how much I'd get paid by the end of the week. And the money aspect was what propelled me to climb over the limestone bars. When I rolled on the grass, pain immediately shot up through my body as I saw the fancy house and the acres where a doghouse stood. I then heard voices. They were childish voices that matched two little boys dressed in funeral suits, running down the steps and running towards a parked Range Rover. When Luigi emerged in a dapper suit, holding a sack of hockey equipment to put in the trunk of his vehicle, I made my necessary move. I cut through the yard and walked up the hill as the bulky firefighter pushed his two bickering sons into the vehicle, closing the side doors. He then watched me in utter shock as I approached like a stray wild animal, his face reddened.
"Something I can do for you buddy?"
"Do you know Mike Plummer?"
"Why are you on my property?
"I don't want any trouble, sir." "I may not give you any trouble just yet."
"Suit yourself. But I'm just here to warn you". I reached into my pockets and pulled out a crumbled letter. "I have the report here to confirm that your deceased brother has an outstanding debt from loans he borrowed to make gambling investments. And guess who is next on the chopping block to pay up: you."
I handed the notice to Luigi. He crumbled it up and tossed it.
"Are you some kind of dope dealer or gangbanger or something, pal?"
"Nope." "Do you realize that working in the trade is a serious offense, pal?"
"Yeah." "So lemme ask you this: do you think it was wise, given that I come from a prominent legal family, for you to trespass my property and threaten me?"
"Not really. But lemme ask you this: do you think it was wise for your brother, a law firm president, to ironically request loans from a black market?"
Luigi seized me up. "Do you know who I am you little inner city punk? I will crush your fucking skull."
"Okay sir, but like I said, I'm just Mike's message giver. You've got one week to pay off the debt or you'll be lying next to your brother." "Say that again, wise guy?"
"I said you'll be lying next to your brother. However, I do offer my sincere condolences to you and your family."
The next thing I knew, Luigi grabbed me by my shirt. He twirled and threw me like a fucking rag doll against the hard hood of his vehicle crushing my back. And he must have banged my head at least three times while I was no longer receptive. He then threw me to the ground shouting his promises to kill me. All I could see was a two hundred pound man in a suit putting his arms around my neck as he dragged me on the asphalt. I screamed for my life as my arms and legs were severely cut up. Blood formed in my mouth.
Luigi then stood over me punching my bloody nose and kicking my ribs and limbs, his eyes so vile they bulged through his face like bulbs. In wild fury he spat in both my eyes until I saw darkness. He continued to scream curses and grunt as he unleashed his caveman fury kicking and punching my jaw. "You fucking punk! Get up!"
In the midst of being wrestled to the ground I searched for my knife. And when something clanged to the ground I felt the cold steel of a blade as I stabbed Luigi in his belly. I then plunged my knife into his scrotum until he finally let out an agonizing scream like the loud roar of a mountain lion. As I cocked the knife, I then reached for Luigi's neck and sliced it, leaving the cocksucka to bleed everywhere. Before long he staggered, collapsed and stared up at the blue sky with his dead-ridden eyes.
As I slowly regained sensory, spat out two bottom teeth in my hands and placed them in my pocket, I stood up. I dusted off my ripped jersey. I then observed Luigi slouched against his vehicle with his face down as his two horrified sons screamed, wept, trembled and hugged each other. Hearing the family dog barking viciously in the house, I placed on my clown mask for anonymity. I then threw myself over the security gate, dashing through several one-way streets and leaping over picket fences.
While running, I saw a nearby hospital and barged through the entrance doors. I then walked up to a dark-skinned lady in scrubs at the desk who looked up at me and recoiled. "May I help you?"
"I need a dentist."
The bewildered woman brought her phone up to her ear. She ignored me while taking a call. Afterwards she formed a wrinkle above her nose. "If you want to see a dentist you would need to call to make an appointment ahead of time. Our facility does not accept walk-ins."
I reached into my bag and took out as much cash as possible. I slammed it on the counter stained with bloody fingerprints. My mouth was on fire in excruciating pain. I spat out blood and bone fragments, causing the hospital worker to contort a look of revulsion. "I don't have insurance but I'll pay anything you want so I can get a doctor. Please, miss! I'm in a lot of pain! I just got my ass kicked and got several teeth knocked out!" I opened my bloodied mouth to demonstrate.
"You have to call and set up an appointment." The lady enunciated, her face showing no empathy whatsoever.
Refraining from calling the lady a bitch, I then quietly stormed out. I crossed the parking lot of ambulances and inpatients roaming around and took a cab back to the train station.
By Friday, I got my teeth fixed at a Boston clinic for a discounted two hundred bucks. And as my weekly check rolled in, so did the new threads, the hair cut, and the diamond studs I rocked. In no time I was back to my old routine handing out debt notices and waiting in parking lots to stab deadbeat bastards sitting in their cars.
On an assignment, I sat two seats away from a college frat boy at Fenway Park during the third inning, reminding him about Mike Plummer. And when I shoved a debt notice in his face, the bastard then got up, spilled his popcorn all over his girlfriend and left her cold, dry and speechless as he tripped over other revelers and bolted out of the stadium like a madman.
My phone kept ringing more often as my boss gained more clients with debts- one in particular of which he called me about late at night. Reaching for my cell phone, I pressed, answered and listened, "Hey buddy, it's Mike. So, here's the fucking thing: I need you to take care of someone for me."
I was in bed with a Harvard girl I had met at a bar as she wrapped her hands around my waist, pinching me with her fingernails. She looked at me pretending to be somewhat interested in a real relationship, but then snapped out of it. It was business as usual. She then said, "Are you seriously calling someone while were in the middle of love making? I didn't sign up for this shit."
I watched her carefully as she got up, revealing her cream colored legs, smooth ass and big titties. She quickly and furiously changed into her tank top and hoochie mama shorts. She flung her hair to the left side of her face and contorted a stuck-up-rich-girl pout. She then said, "Listen: I'm no longer drunk, I gotta go to work in the morning, and I don't believe for a second that you're twenty-one years old. I don't want to end up in jail for picking up a child. So let's pretend we never met and call a spade a spade, okay buddy?"
I peered at the busty looking bimbo slip on her high heels and walk towards the door. But before she walked out she dug into her purse. She scowled, threw a whole lot of cash at me and said, "Here's a hundred bucks to keep your mouth shut to the police."
I was perplexed as my boss's voice escalated. "Hello? Hello? Where the fuck are you?" I shifted around in my bed. "Yeah, boss".
"I thought you fell asleep on me, you muthafucka! Listen, I know it's late, but I need you to do a job for me. It pays four hundred. It's located in Walpole. I know a guy named Joe Francesconi. He's a bar owner who needed ten bags of marijuana for his son who's in college.
"To cure his fucking concussions. I offered him a good bunch of marijuana for a monthly plan of a hundred dollars a month until the amount is paid in full. And before I knew it, the fucking wack-job stopped making his payments. I gave the bastard the benefit of the doubt plenty of times because I felt sorry for his son. But the asshole deliberately cut me off, betraying me. So, I want you to go to Joe's house on Seventy-Four Neponset Street. Hide around his house until he walks out. Then I want you to come out from behind....."
I took the commuter rail to Walpole the next day, standing in a backyard. And as I kept my face disguised I swatted off a swarm of mosquitoes and bees in the sweltering heat, propelling me to run and hide. I then heard the front door of the house slam open as Joe argued with his wife accusing him of infidelities.
"Stop nagging!" he shouted. "Just stop! Shut the fuck up"
I ran towards the edge of the porch, tripping over a garden hose and rolling on the wet lawn. When I got up and regained my vision with a swollen head, I then fixed my gaze on Joe's fat calves. Wearing bunny slippers, he lazily walked down the steps towards his parked Toyota Camry. After checking his carburetor and parking his car close to the sidewalk, he got out giving me the opportunity to slice his left leg once he walked up the steps. I then seized him up as he lay on his porch steps writhing in pain. He gripped his cut up leg as blood trickled, red as tomato sauce.
"YOU'RE A FUCKING DEAD MAN" he wailed. He cried for his wife to call the cops who was coldly unresponsive. He looked perplexed by the clown mask covering my face as I positioned my shiv to stab him in his right leg. I then stepped on his hand and crushed his fingernails, just like my boss instructed me to do. And when he screamed, I ran like fucking Hell and crossed several streets until I ended up at a nearby Footlocker.
Successfully completing my assignments gave me adrenaline to indulge myself. So I tried on several sneakers at Footlocker with help from the suspicious White store reps, and I shopped like crazy with cash to burn.
When I walked up to the teenaged cashier, he stared at my hands stained with sticky human blood. And after ringing up the two pairs of Air Force One's I purchased, he then took my four hundred in cash and counted each bill with a perplexed expression. It was unorthodox for a Black kid in a rich town paying with all dollar bills.
"Biggie and Tupac", the cashier mentioned, smiling as he pointed at my shirt. "Your shirt is fucking dope, man!"
"Thanks!" I despised small talk, but the cashier was a hip hop head. I gave him a pass. I looked up and there were TV's abound showing a Backstreet Boys video on MTV.
"Would you like your receipt, man?"
"That's wassup" I replied with a head nod. "Hey, uh, thanks, yo. Cool store."
I did not take one step further. There were two police officers standing near the entry doors while a bevy of police cars sped down the street with noisy sirens. With my bags in tow I then backed away and moved towards an area of the store near a display of women's sneakers. At this point I didn't know where the fuck to run as a frowning police officer walked into the store to check out some stuff while seemingly playing it cool. He then struck a conversation with the store manager about a man recently stabbed nearby.
"You're not in any trouble, boss" the officer reassured, "but there's been a string of stabbings by suspects dressed like clowns, most particularly a recent one in Swampscott. A man who worked for the town fire department was slit by the throat, but miraculously survived. His prominent older brother committed suicide." The officer was sanguine as he handed the manager a photo. "If you see anyone wearing this clown mask, please let us know. Thank you."
Before the detective could peer in my direction I tilted my head forward and proceeded to walk fast but not run out in a suspicious way. In a sigh of relief I was back at the train station full of afternoon commuters. I then walked into the men's room to change my shirt, put on new shorts, and use the disgusting sink to wash up.
After cleaning my bloody knife, I charged my phone at a nearby outlet. I called my boss who immediately answered.
"Hey Mike, I just took out Joe. The guy didn't even put up a fight like the last guy I mutilated!" "He surrendered because he's a fucking idiot. And he knows it. Now that a fire has been lit under his ass, he'll learn his lesson. That's the whole point of this. Your job is to make my job easier by doing the footwork issuing the warnings. As far as fatal measures, I got an enforcer for that."
"Yeah, but, he called the fucking cops, man! You and I both knew this was gonna happen. Someone took a picture of me and now I'm under investigation. What am I supposed to do?"
"Did you wear a particular mask?"
"Just buy a different mask. And always wear a different mask for now on."
"But why should I hide from the police like a punk? This ain't how I wanna live, man! I got other things to worry about. I'm only seventeen in high school!"
"So what did you think you were getting yourself into by applying to be my assistant? You thought this was gonna be a walk in the park, buddy? Don't get all fucking passive-aggressive on me just because the police got you rattled. I'm paying you good, aren't I?"
"But, what?" my boss interjected. "Listen buddy, this thing ain't gonna last anyhow. I only said I'd hire you over the summer to start entry level as an errand runner, in between your school semesters. When you turn eighteen, graduate from high school and decide you want a full time career working for me, you can call me to renegotiate. Plain and simple."
"Didn't you tell me when we met that I was like a father to you since your own father went to prison when you were ten years old? Didn't you tell me that?"
I didn't need to answer. "Didn't you spend time in my house in the Cape, getting to know my wife, my son, and getting a ride in my Lamborghini?"
I shook but I didn't answer.
"You also spent the night over my house for dinner. Memba that? Didn't you like the Risotto and bourbon steak tips I served you? Huh? What about the chocolate rum cake I served for desert, didn't you like that too, buddy? You fucking loved it. You told me that it was the best cake you ever tasted. So compare all those luxuries I offered you with the luxury of being my personal assistant. There's no fucking difference. You either appreciate the finer things in life, or you don't. If you wanna quit this business and bag fucking groceries, that is strictly up to you. I'm not putting an Uzi to your head, buddy."
I instantly reflected on my upbringing in Savin Hill. My Black daddy got busted for armed robbery, while my White Irish mama ended up single, poor and mentally ill. My grandparents, aunts and uncles on my mama's side had to step in to pay the mortgage and raise me. And days on end I went without food while mama looked for work as a florist. Nonetheless, for fucking weeks I wore the same rusty clothes to school getting bullied and jumped repeatedly. There was no way I was going back home, back to the life I once lived. I was a hustler. I was a new nigga in which other niggas feared, and not the opposite. I shook the phone and paused before making the most pivotal decision I'd ever make in my life. After accepting the job and declaring my utmost gratitude, I still didn't quit pressing the issue:
"What am I supposed to do while the police got my picture plastered on every goddamn news channel?"
"I want you to take a short vacation. Go to New York, go to Disney World, visit the White House, go to Philly and eat a cheese steak, just get the fuck outta Boston for about a week. Get some relaxation until this witch hunt derails. I guarantee you by the time you come back, the police will stop searching for you. They can only focus on a masked young fella for so long before they move on to other cases demanding their attention. Don't even worry about travel expenses. Where you wanna go?"
"Philly. I got a cousin there. But I really wanna go to Chicago."
"I got you covered, buddy."
When I heard the 'hang up' sound, I put my phone away. And when I reached for my wallet and looked in the slits, I was down to one hundred lousy ass bucks. The discovery struck me like a knife to my heart having spent most of my money on Air Jordans that I seriously considered returning to get refunds.
As I sat back in my seat on the train to Boston, I observed the darkness of evening through the windows. I then drifted off into a deep dream in which I was dressed like Bozo the Clown while climbing onto the roof of a freight train traveling to some far off place. I leaped across the boxcars like a jungle bobcat, clinging on to door handles as the train glided through terrain and wildernesses and rumbled on the endless stream of rails. Once the dream ended, I was woken up to the sounds of passengers stumbling down the aisle to get off the train at the last stop.
I could no longer afford the hotel I stayed in. So with nowhere to sleep, I roamed around South Station with my bags while observing ticket booths and waiting areas. I looked on bulletins. There were no departures for Chicago at the moment. I then looked up at a screen TV broadcasting new developments of the Ipswich massacre on NECNN. I then walked away.
I habitually checked my cell phone in case my boss called to inform me he paid for my ticket. I then found a seat, took off my Red Sox cap, rubbed my shaved head and looked up at an LCD billboard. In a live interview on a local news station, my drunken mother was offering a monetary tip to cops, while family members and neighbors held her consolingly. She stated my description in a cracked, shaky voice. "If anyone out there knows where my Kevin is, please- call, email or say anything." She then went upstairs and showed the intrigued news reporter my trashed room filled with train sets.
When I opened my eyes, the train station was completely bright. I had slept overnight, yet the world spun and people still moved about. I was shocked the most that I did not get discovered by security officers for loitering and sleeping.
With the start of a new day I wiped the drool from my mouth. I then gathered my bags and headed into a line for Chicago. Whether I had the loot to afford a ticket or not, I always found a way to get what I wanted in the end. And there was no other joy on Earth than packing up and escaping, as long as I had my perfect job to live the perfect life I fantasized. Going to Chicago was the perfect getaway across America where my family would never be able to afford to find me.
After exiting the men's room, I walked around for a bit with all of my bags as my stomach growled. I then headed to Dunkin' Donuts before hearing an announcement for Chicago through the loud speakers and noticing a long line that extended from the Amtrak and Greyhound ticket booths. When it was finally my turn after a half hour waiting in line, I headed up to the benign female clerk behind the glass window. I took a brochure from the bin and I asked, "Can I please have a round trip ticket to Chicago?"
"You can go by train or bus."
I hated busses. I hated planes. But I loved trains. I thought about Western flicks depicting old world freight trains transporting cargo through romantic American sceneries, and captives jumping out of fast moving railroad trains rumbling over dangerous bridges and steep mountains.
"There's a Greyhound bus that leaves today at ten o'clock going to the Dan Ryan terminal. And there is an express Amtrak train to Union Station leaving in forty minutes."
"I'll take the Amtrak."
"When do you plan to return to Boston?"
"In a week."
"Okay, what car would you prefer: coach or regular?"
"Finally: I need to see your ID."
I showed her my fake ID. She looked at me with a smile that would detect deceit like a sniveling, German Shepherd. After she carefully scanned my photo she slid over to a nearby computer. She then looked confused at the computer.
"Is something wrong, miss?" I asked.
"It shows on my screen that someone purchased a round trip ticket in your name."
Two names popped into my mind. It was Michael Plummer. If I could do fucking back flips and strip naked, it would have been right at that moment.
"I have tickets reserved for you from someone who called overnight, by the name of Michael Plummer. Are you Kevin Griffin?" The agent looked at my ID once more to answer her own question. She then reached for a pair of tickets on her desk and handed them to me with my ID. "Well, consider yourself lucky to have a friend so kind enough to buy you six hundred dollar worth tickets. Enjoy your trip!"
I headed to the platform to wait for the Amtrak train as it screeched its way into the station. Meanwhile, I was constantly looking over my shoulder like a paranoid crackhead any time I saw or overheard a law enforcer nearby.
Once the train parked in front of a crowd of people with their luggage, it hasn't hit me that my boss just saved my ass, paying for my trip to Chicago. But all I could do was heave a sigh of relief. While strapping on my duffel bag and clutching my shopping bags, an agent slid a car door open, standing and taking people's tickets before they could enter. When I stepped onto the platform and introduced myself, the agent then nodded with content as I handed him a ticket to Union Station.
"Your seat is at the lower end in row fifteen, young man."
As the agent pointed to a slender white man with dark shades sitting next to an empty seat, I forced out a gracious smile. I was hoping to sit alone but I came to accept that you can't get every fucking thing you want in life. So without hassle I placed one foot over the other to walk down the beautiful aisle. I then took in view of the leather seats and the small televisions attached to the ceiling.
I stored my bags into the overhead lockers and eased myself into my seat when more passengers settled in. I then watched the man by the window sitting with a tray on his lap. He read a Boston Herald newspaper, simultaneously slicing a scented red apple with a knife. After watching him stuff pieces in his mouth, I ignored the stranger by taking out my phone, calling up my boss and being left with the operator announcing: "Sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service, please dial a new number or hang up." I dialed his number again. It was the same annoying operator. I dialed again, impulsively. This time the number was blocked or cut off entirely leaving no signal. A chill crawled down my back.
I turned to observe the doors close. The train conductor greeted, joked, announced times and wished everyone an enjoyable trip. I then vibrated as the floor moved, the wheels turned, and the train pulled out of the station speeding through Massachusetts.
I came up with an idea of how to avoid the apple-munching guy sitting next to me. I grabbed my CD player, inserted a Jay-Z CD and put on my headphones. But then I looked over as the guy next to me made crumbling sounds with his newspaper, checking out an article he was reading under the caption: Missing Teens of 1999. After he finished reading, he sighed and read an 'end of millennium memorable events' list. He then flipped to the front page highlighting every scene and all of the victims of the Ipswich massacre. It included pre-massacre photos of the notorious president, along with the vice president and his secretary, killed.
"Police are still working on the case to find out if it was an act of suicide or vengeful murder?", the stranger beside me suddenly vented in a local dialect, "Holy fucking shit."
I took off my headphones to listen. "What about Frank's brother who was stabbed? The justice system can't put two and two together to deem this sequence a mob-related murder plot?" He then glanced at me, certain that I shared his sentiments. "Why would a notorious guy like Frank Dimascio commit suicide unless drugs, or the mob had something to do with it? Fuck outta here. And the family of that young secretary who died in this senseless shit should sue the town." He shoved his newspaper into a corner. He then reached for his apple to resume peeling it and asked: "So, going to Chicago huh, buddy? Where are you from?"
As if I had any intentions on asking a fucking stranger where I was from, I said: "Stab n' Kill, Dorchester."
"Savin Hill, huh?" The man laughed. "I get it. I grew up in Medford."
The stranger then looked up with his mouth raised. I followed his lead and looked up as if something significant happened. Nothing. All that he was looking at were travelers all around us sitting, doing miscellaneous things.
I popped in a Rhythm and Blues cd after I got tired of listening to rap, bobbing my head up and down. That's when I peered at the stranger next to me eating another slice of his apple. His bare face moved in rhythm to his chewing as he stared into my soul. Much to my displeasure I was forced to listen to this lonely alpha-male in need of conversation.
"I grew up in Meddie- born and raised" the stranger continued rambling, staring out reflectively. "I grew up in a large complex with four older brothers, all aspiring pro-baseball players. Me on the other hand, I wanted to be a boxer at first but then decided to train as a cop. I loved riding in police cars as a boy, and visiting my grandfather's ranch to shoot guns and rifles. My father was a cop and my grandfather and my uncles were cops. So, it was in my blood." "That's nice." I said. From the corner of my eye I could see the stranger's pale face and dark sunglasses under sunlight as he faced me. He wouldn't stop talking. "I lived above a scrawny kid who lived on the first floor named Mikey Plummer. But in Meddie we called him Plummer. He was an only child who watched both of his hippy parents doing LSD, right in his face. That's how Plummer was introduced to drugs. My heart stopped. Everything just stopped. There weren't that many Michael Plummers on this fucking planet that I knew of, who were synonymous with drugs. So this was not coincidental.
I peered at the anonymous cop stabbing his apple with his knife and eating another chunk of it. "Mike Plummer, Mike Plummer" the cop rambled, shaking his head emphatically, "Even when I asked my folks why all the neighbors remained silent, I remember my mother pulling me by my arm like a stern Irish Catholic. And she said, "We are not tattle tails. Let God deal with the Plummers. You just worry about walking on a straight path so you won't end up in their Hell."
Within seconds the train sped from place to place, the sun shifting East and West, clouds thickening. Pretending to be indifferent was all I could do as I stared at the window, observing nature. "So what happened to your friend, Plummer?" I asked.
"We ended up being buddies aside from his messed up family", the cop said sadly, looking unsure of something. "My brothers and I used to invite him over for dinner because he was so fucking scrawny from being malnourished. His parents were too busy injecting needles that they abandoned him altogether. People make it seem like Plummer chose to be a criminal. But those like me who knew Plummer will tell you he was an honor student who played cornerback on the high school football team."
An image surfaced in my mind. The day that I met Mike for an interview I went to his house in Sandwich. I saw trophies everywhere on shelves and in cabinets, but I didn't bother to inquire.
"Plummer had such remarkable passion on the field and I tried to convince him to turn football into a profession", the cop continued, "we were just alike, both idolizing Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw. But when Plummer's folks died his soul died. And although his grandparents took him in, he ran away too many times. When he dropped out of high school to work for some local punk greasers, that baffled me. He stuck people up in movie theaters and parks. He then stole cars, robbed liquor stores and committed burglaries. And when meth hit in the Eighties, he went up the ranks as a dealer. He sold meth, weed, crack, heroin, anything that was hot on the streets without the police having a single damn clue. All I heard around town were myths about my former friend. When the cops finally shook the street gang, Plummer fled, out of sight, out of mind. He then started his own online operation to hire misguided goons like you to be his errand runner, helping him to become some delusional drug lord."
I tried to escape, but there was no point. I've been had. The cop let me know he meant business by unbuttoning his shirt, showing his shiny gold badge. He then nodded knowingly to another federal agent sitting in the opposite aisle. With an unmerciful expression, he also showed me his badge. This was not how I imagined I would ever go out on a temporary job, but the train kept moving at a rapid pace where there was no turning back whatsoever.
"Now I'm gonna be lenient with you Kevin because you are a minor", the cop said, observing me. "You were a puppet, although I'm not sure you understand the serious nature of your offense getting involved. And too many times I have seen cases of young Black inner city boys get caught up in this
profession because you hate being poor and want to dress in designer suits, drive fancy cars and pop bottles of champagne like that rapper Puff Daddy. Well Kevin, I'm letting you off on charges of conspiracy with a sentence of one year in a juvenile detention center. But one thing I will not let you do is ride this train to Chicago. No more running away from your problems. No more running away from your family and no more running away from the law. And you will have to get a regular job even if it means working at Home Depot in between school".
"Fuck that shit!", I spoke out, "I ain't gonna work my ass off like a plantation slave for six dollars at some dead end job while panhandlers on the street live a better life." And I was right.
But the cop put down his eaten apple. He took off his shades revealing his sharp eyes. He was the officer who caught me standing in the building window of Dimascio and Associates. He took pleasure in capturing me and he leaned close like a predator to a dead bird. "I just exonerated you Kevin." He whispered. "The wisest words you should have said were, 'Thank you your majesty. I am forever appreciative and in debt to you for your mercy.' Because if I catch you on any train making illicit deliveries, transactions or runs, you'll be locked up."
I could've cried but I didn't know how. I could've got up out of my chair, but I didn't have the nerve. I could've retaliated, but I'd rather have a stain on my record than a fractured skull. I could've blamed anyone I wanted for my downfall, but they weren't the ones being grilled by a federal agent.
"How did you find me?" I asked, hateful. "Who told you?"
"...Your former boss who will now be a prison informant. Which wraps up today's second lesson: choose your friends wisely."
Train agents all around were standing, monitoring. Waitresses were up and down the aisles serving snacks, adjusting pillows and turning on the tv screens to news channels still covering the Ipswich massacre. The officer then placed his hand on my shoulder to ensure my captivity as the train settled into Ohio.
"I can let you go free Kevin, but there's no way in Hell I'm gonna let you off this train, and out of my sight."