FATHER'S DAY - FELIX CRUZ
It was June, but Russ was a little chilly now. The air conditioner was blowing right into the bloody hole in his head and was giving him goose bumps.
Not more than an hour ago, he was fine. He left work and was driving home, listening to the news on 1060 AM. He lost reception once he turned onto Frankford and was driving under the El. He was looking forward to getting home, eating dinner, and relaxing for a bit. Watch some television with the wife. Maybe even get a quickie in before going to sleep. He may have been pushing sixty, but that didn’t slow his sex drive one bit.
Those plans were obliterated when he stopped for the red at Foulkrod Street and saw the tall guy on the corner. The tall guy standing in front of his Chevy Nova, looking under the hood, his hands smeared with black grease. They made eye contact. He approached the passenger side of Russ’s SUV, and tapped on the window with the back of his hand.
To Russ, the tall guy appeared harmless. Didn’t look like a criminal or a drug addict, like most of the creatures you see under the El around this time in the evening. He was wearing khakis with a light brown button-down shirt.
He hit the button on his door and let the window roll down about three inches, raised his eyebrows like saying, Can I help you? Tall Guy smiled and asked if he could get a jump, his battery kept losing juice. Told Russ he had the cables and would even pay him. He didn’t want to be stuck in this shithole for hours waiting for a tow truck; he was the manager at a clothing store near the end of the block, and knew the neighborhood to be dangerous during the day and downright fierce at night. And night would arrive in about an hour and a half.
Russ agreed and made a U-turn in the middle of Frankford Avenue, pulled hood-to-hood with the Nova, popped his hood, stepped out of the SUV, told the tall guy he had his own cables and would grab them out of the compartment in the cargo space.
Tall Guy stayed at the front of his stalled car while, at the rear of the SUV, Russ was pulling the rolled-up cables from the foot wide compartment. He stole a quick glance through the windshield to see the stalled Nova, but no Tall Guy. He was gone.
Russ knew something was wrong, but had no time to react. He spun around to see a flash of white light and then nothing. Lights out for Russ.
The next few moments, he heard faint voices, one calm and the other sounding a bit frantic as he felt his limp body being stuffed into the cargo space.
After they shut the hatchback, he heard them arguing. The calm one ended the disagreement after saying, “This is what we planned. You didn’t have any complaints the whole time we discussed it, right? Just try and remember all the bullshit he put us through. Okay? Now, what’s done is done. It’s over.”
Russ tried to move, but couldn’t. He could hear what was going on, but his brain couldn’t get the rest of his body to cooperate, couldn’t open his eyes, move his arms, legs, couldn’t even bend his fingers. Was he dead? Was this what it was like to be dead, your soul trapped in a rotting shell of what you once were? No. Russ didn’t want to die. Get home. That’s all he wanted to do. Get home to Simone.
As the thoughts whirled in his head, he heard the hood of the Nova shut, a door shut, the engine start, and the car drive away. That was followed by the door to his SUV shutting. And that’s where he was now, riding in the back, to God knows where, with a hole in his head. Blood probably ruining the rug on the floor as he tried with every bit of energy to move, even crack his eyelids open. But still nothing.
By the age of sixteen, Doug Nixon was already six two. He was twenty-two now, and had been six five for about three years. When he first slid behind the wheel of Mr. Stanley’s SUV, or that asshole Stanley as Doug referred to him (he deserved no respect from Doug), he had to adjust the seat back in order to get the leg space needed to drive comfortably. He’d planned this moment for a long time now with his younger brother and was following him in the Nova; the Nova heading down Hunting Park going toward Fifth Street.
As he drove in silence, following Kurt’s taillights, Doug thought of his father, and how he would react to seeing his old boss after so many years. The man who ruined his life just to make sure he came under budget for his department. He pictured Daddy smiling at the sight of his former boss’s bloodied face, and then thrilled to use the crowbar, the same one his son used to bash Russ's head in, to finish him. Then, when Daddy was all done, they’d put asshole Stanley’s body in the trunk of one of the cars scheduled to be demolished tomorrow. Kurt already had the car picked out, a ’99 Protégé that had most of its parts removed weeks ago to be used as spares. What was left was pretty much useless, except to the bloody old man in the back. For him, the Protégé would serve as his final resting place. Everyone else gets a cushioned casket made of wood; asshole Stanley gets a Mazda Protégé with a CD player, tape deck, AC and power windows. Lucky him. That’s right, just dump the fucker right in. No one would ever miss him.
Russ tried moving again. For the past few minutes, he had conserved his energy and was feeling a little stronger. He felt the fingers on his right hand move. The hand slid down, away from his fetal-positioned body and touched the rug. Soaked. Probably with his own blood. His eyelids parted, the vision in his right eye was blurry. Maybe the blood seeping into his eye had something to do with it? He closed the right eye, and gazed at the rug beneath him. Confirmed. It was blood. Was he shot? Wasn’t sure, but he had to get help. Couldn’t imagine lasting much longer after losing so much blood. Try calling for help. Fuck. He called Simone after leaving work, and left the cell in the cup holder. What about the hatchback? If it was unlocked, he could open it and jump out. Yeah, but there’s no handle on the inside, no way for him to open it. He would have to wait, whoever put him back here had to come back to get him. When they did, surprise them. Make a move. Attack the son of a bitch. But he needed a weapon. Yeah, that’s right, there’s a tire iron back here. Not a big one, one of those piece of shit jobs that come with the vehicle when you buy it. Use that. He felt around the bloody rug until his fingers touched it. Then put a tight grip around the tire iron. Now...time to wait.
Kurt was only ten when Daddy was fired by Russell Stanley, almost nine years now. Back then, Kurt figured it was no big deal, Daddy’d find another job and move on. Didn’t work out like that. Months passed with no sign of a new job and soon, they were faced with losing their house after falling behind on bills. Things only got worse. With no job, Daddy fell hard into drinking, spending most of his unemployment check at the bar around the corner. He and Mom fought more. Didn’t take too long for her to leave. She had no choice, they lost the house, and she was forced to take the boys and move in with her sister. Daddy was left alone, moving into a room in a shitty neighborhood. Mom was heartbroken. She loved Daddy and never wanted to leave him, but did it to give the boys a good home. She died from a heart attack only a few years later.
Doug and Kurt lived with their aunt until Daddy got back on his feet. He found a job at a junkyard, where he still worked, and was able to control his drinking. Hadn’t stopped, he’d still get drunk, usually on his days off, and that’s when they would hear him say how he wanted to get Russ Stanley. Make him pay for ruining his life, tearing his family apart, killing his wife. The boys could see the pain Daddy carried. They could see it in his face, in his eyes, and they could hear it in his voice.
They had an idea of the pain, because they had dealt with it over the years; the pain of having their family destroyed, the pain of losing Mom and watching Daddy become less than a man. They wanted the pain to go away for Daddy and for themselves. They figured this was the way to do it.
Kurt pulled the Nova through the open fence that led into Bobby’s Junkyard, the SUV with Doug only yards behind. They parked in a garage that had a small office connected to it. It was dark inside, but with the lights glaring through the windows of the office, they could see Daddy sitting at a desk.
The men stepped out of the vehicles and met at the front of the SUV. “I’ll get Daddy. Bring him over. Let me know if you need help,” said Doug. They knew Daddy closed up the junkyard on Wednesdays and would be alone by this time, so they weren’t worried about anyone popping up on them.
Elias Nixon was looking through the window now; he saw the two vehicles and was wondering who it could be. Closing time was a half hour ago and the boss left at three. He squinted as he tried to make out one of the vehicles. Yeah, it was the Nova. What was Doug doing here? He was off today.
The father and son met at the office door. “Dad,” Doug said, a faint smile across his face, “we got a surprise for you.”
“Me and Kurt. You’re gonna love it.”
“Yeah?” said Elias, peeking behind Doug, getting a look at the SUV. “Where’d the SUV come from? Don’t tell me that’s the gift.”
“No, Dad. That ain’t the gift.”
“Okay. Good. I was gonna say, ‘I know you two can’t afford that.’ Afraid you stole it for a second.” Elias patted his son’s shoulder, smiling. Then there was a scream. They hustled over to the rear of the SUV where Kurt lay with the flat end of a tire iron driven about three inches into his stomach. Blood was seeping through his gray sweatshirt. Elias was too shocked to say anything. His gaze held on Kurt, while his older son was staring at the older man leaning against the opened hatchback. He was breathing heavy. Blood was drenched in his hair. A goddamn mess.
Russ made eye contact with the tall guy. He said in a tired voice, “Did you get that Nova started?”
Doug’s eyes widened.
Kurt reached out for his daddy as he whimpered.
Elias got on his knees beside his injured son and put his hands over the bloody sweatshirt, his fingers brushing around the tire iron. “What the fuck is going on here? Call a goddamn ambulance!”
With his eyes fixed on Russ, the tall guy began to step away, toward the office door. Russ said, “Call the police while you’re at it. Tell them what you did to me.”
Doug stopped. Beads of sweat began forming on his face.
“What are you doing, Doug? Call nine-one-one. Your brother needs help. Now!”
Doug looked at his father, “I can’t do that, Dad.” His Daddy looked at him, confused. “This is your surprise.” With his head, he motioned to the asshole.
Elias looked at the older man who appeared worse off than his son. He had no clue who he was. His eyes went back to Doug. “Who is he supposed to be, huh? What is this bullshit?”
Doug said, “That’s the man who ruined everything. You always said you wanted to get your hands on him. Well, now’s your chance. Go ahead. Pay the son of a bitch back for all the shit he put you through. And me and Kurt. And Mom. What about her? She’s dead because of him.”
“I never killed anyone in my life,” said Russ, interrupting the tall guy named Doug. “I don’t even know who you are.”
It was clear to Elias now. After hearing his son’s rant, and seeing the tears in his eyes, he knew it. “I worked for you, Russ.”
The voice sounded familiar.
“For twelve years. Then, out of the blue, you fired me. Remember?”
Jesus. “Elias? Elias Nixon?” The upset father nodded. “You’re behind this? You sent your sons to come after me?”
“Hell, no. I would never do anything like that.”
“We did it for you,” said Doug. “You always said how you wanted to get your hands on him. The asshole who ruined your life, our family. Russ Stanley. Well, here he is. Take care of him.”
“Doug, I was drunk whenever I’d talk like that,” said Elias, glaring at his son. “I would never do anything to hurt my family and I’d never expect my family to do something for me that would put them in danger.” Doug stared. “Now call for help. Doug! Do it.”
Russ watched as Doug stood still. The battered executive was beginning to feel lightheaded from the head wound suffered earlier and was desperate for medical attention. “I have a cell phone, I’ll call for help.”
Elias nodded his approval to his former boss as he held his injured son in his arms.
“No,” said Doug, as Russ stumbled to the driver’s side door. “Stay here. Stay the fuck here.”
Russ didn’t listen. He kept walking. There was no time to waste. If he didn’t call for help now, he knew someone could end up dead. He could hear the footsteps rushing up behind, then the sudden force of being tackled against the body of the SUV. He tried his best to pull away from the enraged son, but he was too weak.
Then he saw Doug’s balled-up fist shooting toward his face. He felt the pain as it crashed against his cheekbone. He could hear Elias shouting for his son, telling him to stop, he was only hurting his brother at this point. But Doug didn’t stop. He continued bashing his knuckles against Russ’s face. Russ's eye began to swell, then his cheek. The next blow hit him square in his nose, causing it to explode in an eruption of blood.
His world was getting blurry around him. With each blow that landed, he saw a flash of white. His eyes began to roll. No choice. He gathered his last bit of energy, and slammed the palm of his hand into Doug’s crotch. Doug hunched over, letting out a deep moan.
Still leaning against the SUV, Russ pushed himself up and stumbled over to Doug. With one hand, he grabbed the back of Doug's shirt; with the other, Russ punched Doug in the crotch again and again and again. Doug screamed and fell to his knees, coughed a few times as he vomited on the dirt-covered ground.
Russ dragged his feet as he walked over to the door, wiping blood from his eye. He reached for the cell phone. He called 911, said he was helping his buddy at the junkyard, and a freak accident injured him and his buddy’s son. They needed help right away. He hoped they wouldn’t ask too many questions. He began feeling disoriented, like he was dreaming. He decided to call his wife. She answered. He told her he’d be late for dinner.
“Doug? What happened to you?” said Elias. He didn’t want to leave his baby boy alone; his baby boy who was crying and continuing to tell his father that he was sorry for what they did, they only wanted to make him happy. Elias carried the guilt with him for so many years, the guilt of seeing his family collapse after he lost his job and fell into alcoholism, and he swore he would never abandon his family again. When Kurt began to cry, Elias remembered Kurt as a small boy crying as he forced him into the car with his wife and Doug, the day they moved out. Now he was caressing Kurt's head, telling him everything was going to be okay.
When Russ came back around, he looked at the father and son on the ground. He didn’t have any children, but he and Simone had always wanted a few. He could understand what Elias and his injured son were both feeling. His father had died years ago but Russ thought about him all the time. They weren’t close, but they loved each other beyond whatever they could express in words.
He dropped down beside his former employee and took a deep breath. His face covered in blood and bruises. Elias turned to him and said, “I’m sorry for what they did to you. But...It’s hard, but...Don’t blame them...Blame...”
“Leave it, Elias. It’s taken care of.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, wanting to get a little rest now. “You must be a heck of a father.”
BIO: Felix Cruz is a writer from Philadelphia. His crime novel Rushing The Row is available on Amazon.com.
Elvis Costello - Complicated Shadows
1 hour ago