ELEPHANTS - KIERAN SHEA
Originally published at Crooked in June 2009
A loft in Jersey City, fourteen years ago...
Heaven was an asshole.
Heaven planted a cold engineer boot on Pat Flood’s neck and slowly fanned the room to a freeze with a .45. The girls, Heaven’s “talent”, gathered their frilly things and shouldered past Heaven’s draped open leather coat—out the condo’s front door.
“Keep passing the bag,” Heaven said.
Pat never saw the blow. Typically, he prided himself on his fighting instincts, playing things street smart, being one of the last of the Irish raised in Flatbush and all. But nerves were slowed by hours of tilted stout and a couple bowls of good weed. Christ. Wasn’t this bad for business? Taking off a bachelor party?
And, man, he was just negotiating for more time, nothing more. For crying out loud, the ten of them in that condo had enough money slaving in Manhattan day-in and day-out they could have paid the girls to stay for a year and then some. But that had never been Heaven’s plan apparently. Heaven chopped him down.
“Keep it comin’. Yo, Charlie Sheen Wall Street! Watch, too, bitch.”
Pat squirmed his cheek in the greasy empty clam of a discard pizza box, elbows cocked as if he were resting between push-up sets. Out of the corner of his bloodied eye, he saw the plastic shopping bag sway between the passing hands of his friends. The thin white skin of the bag was dark with wallets, jewelry and loose bills. Finally, the bag was handed over his head to Heaven. The pressure from the boot increased on Pat’s neck as Heaven looked in the bag.
“Nice. Might wanna take a minute to pull together your story an’ shit before dialing any police, seeing that I now own these wallets. Couple wedding bands ‘round the room, too. Good times, huh? Went to college together an’ shit?”
From the shift in pressure on his neck, Pat could sense that the .45 in Heaven’s hand had swung back across the room.
“Yeah, well, you college pussies oughta know better.”
Two weeks later...
Pat did the bench squat next to his cousin Mikey, both of them rolling paper cups of coffee between their hands. Pat stared absently at the impatient 6:40 commuter shoes and felt the chugging vibrations of the Staten Island Ferry deep in his spine.
“What do you want me to say, Pat? Yeah, of course, the guy has a sheet, d’fuck you think? Jesus. Petty this, couple of pops, nothing major. But then he finally screwed the pooch and did six and a half in East Jersey State for a liquor store robbery. So what? So now he’s pimping strippers and you guys fucked up and lied to the Jersey City cops because a couple of you were stupid enough to buy blowjobs and nobody wants to ruin their precious life? Big deal. Grow up. Buncha babies. Chalk gettin’ robbed to experience. Get back to your MBAs, your jobs, your fiancés, whatfuckin’ever. I’m telling you, a douchebag like this character? S’not worth it.”
“Just gimme the paper, Mikey.”
Mikey sighed, slurped his coffee, then warned, “This comes back to me, I swear to God, Pat...”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it.”
Reluctantly, Mikey fished a folded-up square of paper from his breast pocket. Pat snatched the paper and gave his cousin an envelope.
They both drank their coffee for a while after that and said nothing. When the ferry finally bumped into the Manhattan terminal, Mikey stood.
“So. These good seats or what?”
Pat looked up at his cousin adjusting his creaking duty belt.
“They’re gold. Third base line, fifteen rows up. Company seats. Make sure your kid brings his glove and pays attention.”
The masses of humanity shuffled past.
“Fuckin’ kid,” Mikey said, “He’s like half a fag for Mr. November, y’know?”
Present day—Bergen County, New Jersey...
“Honey, what’s this?”
Pat poked his head around the corner into the master bedroom. He had half a beard of shaving cream and a thick, black towel cinched around his waist.
“This.” His wife Jeanie held up a faded swatch of paper. “This was in your junk box on your bureau. I’m cleaning it out. Is this important?”
Patrick padded over and plucked the paper from his wife’s scissored fingertips, giving her a puzzled look. He unfolded the paper, read the handwriting and felt a surge of memories rise behind his eyes.
“Who is Raúl Gomez?”
Pat tsked dismissively. “Um, just this guy... wow. Phew. Long time ago. Forgot I even had this piece of paper anymore.”
“Is that a Social Security number?”
“Umm...kind of. Yeah.”
“Why do you have his Social Security number?”
“It’s a long story.”
Later that day in midtown, Pat swiveled in his desk chair and stared out at the canyons of Manhattan. Rain leaked jagged streams down his office window.
It had been over ten years since he asked his cousin Mikey in NYPD for that favor, a wild young hair up Pat’s ass, looking for some payback. He had no idea what he’d do and, in the end, ended up doing nothing. Once again, Pat was amazed at the banal dross of life accumulating around him like so much cold, wet sand.
Nothing really came of the stolen credit cards and missing driver licenses from that night. After all, the robbery was back in the salad days of the Internet, back when identity theft was just a faint notion on a far back burner.
A couple of gas charges, a restaurant bar tab, and poof—it was over. Cops said cards were probably buried deep in a landfill somewhere.
Pat swiveled back and picked up the piece of paper from his desk blotter.
Raúl Gomez. A.K.A. Heaven.
Pat unclipped his personal cell phone from his belt, shut his office door, and made some calls.
“He owns a what?”
The private detective next to Pat trolled a finger down his report and squinted. They were perched in a Starbucks window on West 56th.
“Ahh...a small auto supply house in South Amboy, New Jersey. Actually, they just sell high end rims. Fancy chrome accessories, that sort of thing. The detailed, bass thumping 808 crowd, if you know what I mean.”
“And he’s no longer doing anything criminal?”
The detective smoothed his tie. “From all outward appearances, no. After his last jolt for aggravated assault, nothing comes up. Rents an average looking townhouse, has a wife, who runs a nail salon, and a daughter in private preschool, if you can believe that. It seems the correctional system has rehabilitated Mr. Gomez. Joined the rat race, as it were. Here's a current picture.”
Patrick looked at the photograph taken from a distance. Older, yes, softer, yes, eyes of menace still. Hair gone and a shaved dome, dipped a bit more in ink and a tad on the jowly side, but it was definitely him.
“Yes, sir. Raúl Gomez. Heaven.”
Pat snorted and shook his head in wonder. He then shook the private detective's hand and wrote him a check.
The following Saturday, Pat Flood opened the glass door to Heavenly Hubs a sharp electronic deet-deet-deet announcing his entrance. Heavy plodding hip hop vibrated the air and hard April sunshine blasted through the barred windows, flashing up the chrome.
A clerk at the front with a flat-brimmed purple Yankees cap, wet-looking Lil’ Wayne dreads, and an oversized Nets jersey cocked a fuzzy chin at Patrick, “S’up, can I do y’fo’?”
Pat's heart raced. Gingerly, he made his way forward down the central display area, his mouth drying. At the counter, he drummed his fingers on a glass case near the register. An aisle over, two wannabe bangers in white skull caps and droopy shorts were snickering.
“Is the owner around?”
“Depends, dog. You sellin’ shit?”
“Yeah. You a salesman? Sign front window says, like, no solicitation.”
“No. No, I just would like to speak to the owner that’s all, please.”
Purple Cap leaned back on his stool and scratched the neck of a panting Rotweiller the size of an ottoman resting on the floor behind him. Patrick noticed the dog’s collar was a hand-tooled black leather belt with the word PRIME on it in raised, sharp studs.
“I’ll check if he’s available.”
“Thanks,” Pat said, the dog looking up and appraising Pat’s presence. Purple Cap paused at the doorway and turned back. “And who’re you?”
Pat crossed his arms and forced a smile, “I’m Patrick.”
“Yeah. Patrick Flood.”
“A’ight. Watcha register, Prime.” The Rotweiller whined.
After a bit, a man emerged from behind a doorway with the Purple Cap trailing behind. The man smelled of onions and vinegar and was chewing open-mouthed, wiping his ring adorned hands with a yellow paper napkin.
“Can I help you?”
Pat let his memory roll backward then forward. It was him—Heaven—the guy who brokered the strippers for that bachelor party oh-so-many years ago and brutally pistol-whipped him to the floor.
“Are you Max Hernandez?” Pat asked, floating a ruse.
Raúl looked at Purple Cap then back at Pat standing there. There was an exchange of rough, smoky laughs. Pat felt sweat on his upper lip. There wasn’t even a flicker of recognition in Raúl’s eyes.
“Naw, man. My name is Raúl. I’m Raúl Gomez.”
Yeah, Pat thought, old anger tightening in his chest.
I so fucking know who you are.
What happened next was possibly the dumbest, mid-life crisis play of all time.
Pat figured he’d wait a week, come back and case Gomez’s closing routines. Then he’d seize the right moment, get a couple of shots in and settle the ancient score once and for all.
Meanwhile, at the gym, Pat signed up for a couple of early A.M. private sessions with one of the martial arts instructors to beef up his arsenal of debilitating quick strikes. Catch Gomez off-guard, unleash the barrage, and drop some knowledge on his gangsta ass.
It was a crazy idea, dangerous. But Pat had seen the photos from the detective. I’m in way better shape than that scumbag, Pat thought. He’s gone doughy, looked slow. Plus he’ll never expect it or see me coming.
Pat’s grandfather, a strict off-the-boat mick who drove for the MTA for forty-five years, always told him—they may beat you down and it may take a while, but the Irish? The Irish always have a way of coming around. Memories like elephants. Goddamn right.
But Pat’s vision of justice didn’t go down that way.
What Pat remembered was the parking lot behind Heavenly Hubs tilting. He remembered being kicked and stomped and beaten and rolled over, a thick worming hand fishing free his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. Then nothing for a while as a car alarm chirped and a door was opened. Then footsteps before the hot shot of a baseball bat caved in his front teeth. Pat passed out.
Later, there were flashes, bursting snapshots...like when he used a View•master back when he was a kid, the toy with the waffled disks of images you advanced by fingering a lever. The dark blue coats of the EMTs, himself using his thumb and forefinger to tweezer out a bloody piece of glass the size of a diamond from his chin, stay with me, stay with me, the doctors at Raritan Bay Medical Center with their minty smocks and that syringe the size of a sixteen-inch screwdriver.
Oh yeah. And the screaming.
Pat cracked his left eye, the one that wasn’t swollen shut like a leaking fig. His wife Jeanie was at his bedside. Pat’s throat was on fire but he managed a croak.
Jeanie snapped to, her watery green eyes flicking desperately back and forth as she leaned closer, touching his chest, “Oh, thank God, you’re awake!” She cried over her shoulder, “Nurse! Nurse! He’s awake!”
Pat weakly clasped his wife’s hand. “Did you...ulkk.. say...anything?”
Jeanie turned back, “Say anything?” She stroked his matted hair above a bristlingwedge of fresh stitches, “What? Say anything about what, baby?”
“Who? Who did this to you? They don’t know. Police are saying you got mugged. What were you doing in South Amboy anyway, Pat baby? I don’t understand, why were you down there, honey pie?”
Pat tried to shake his head but could barely manage an agonizing drift. Jeanie started sobbing. Smiling and sobbing.
As the nurses buzzed around him, Pat fought the pull of the medications insisting that he slip back down into the cool, black zero. Sweet freakin’ Christ, he hurt, how can he be forty-one and hurt so Goddamn much?
If Raúl Gomez had his wallet, well, then Gomez had him. He may have forgotten Pat from the robbery more than a decade past, but he sure as shit knew where Pat lived now. Lived with Jeanie. With his two kids.
Jeanie kissed his cheek, her breath hot and sour, lips dry as a paper.
Man, Pat thought miserably. Payback's such a bitch.
BIO: Kieran Shea scratches at the crime fiction eight ball like a lot of sordid lots. He blogs his struggle at BLACK IRISH BLARNEY.
SWITCHBLADE #1 is available. (per Fred Zackel)
16 hours ago