Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 408 - Robert Caporale


First appeared in TATTOO HIGHWAY 2006

Our footfalls thump in unison as we quickstep down the rusted iron stairs of a fire escape. We don’t dare look back yet; it’s too risky to slow down for even a second. Puerto Ricans are fleet of foot and they’re surely gaining on us. They may already have their Saturday night specials pointed at our sorry asses so we say our prayers hold out breaths and drum down three flights of stairs fast as our Hushpuppies will carry us, listening for the cap gun like pop/pop of a twenty-two caliber — the pistol of choice on the city streets after dark with their perfect little entrance holes and no excessive blood.

When we finally hit the blacktop in the back parking lot, we pick up speed and move along the brick wall in the shadows till we get to the corner of the building and screech around the turn single file sticking tight to the brick. Still no pop/pop. Duncan starts ranting about how we deserve a bullet up the ass for letting ourselves get drawn into a fixed Puerto Rican poker game forgetting that he found the stacked game and brought us to it.

Typical Ducan denial crap.

We can hear fast talking Spanish street chatter closing in on us. All we can hope for is that our car is close by when we hit the Boulevard otherwise we may have to split up. One of us going to have to grow some balls quick and glance back and assess the situation.

We hit the boulevard. It’s lined with those sad little city trees washed in a dreamy orange glow from the security lamps burning shadows out of the corners. Every stoop has slow moving figures — ghost people passing around bottles of Thunderbird and quarts of Colt 45 shrouded by clouds of yellow smoke from generic cigarettes. Latin rhythms thunder out of boom boxes. As we trip out of the alley, all eyes fall upon of us, like we just stepped out onto a holy-roller revival stage. We slam on the brakes. A black cat scoots out from behind a trashcan. Not a good sign. Black cats and timing are everything in this life, but, as luck would have it, Duncan’s car is sitting right across the boulevard in a loading zone — the chrome grillwork glinting at us, seemingly enjoying our dilemma. We bolt across the street. TJ finally glances over his shoulder before diving into the car.

The Puerto Ricans are taking aim.

Gogogogogogogogo! TJ screams.

Duncan fires up the engine, bangs the shifter into gear, fishtails away from the curb leaving a curtain of acrid blue rubber smoke hanging in the heavy air behind us.

Great scare.

But now it’s over and we’re feeling a sense of relief. We feel safe and cozy in Duncan’s Malibu SS as if we were riding in the back of Grandpa’s Buick, stroking the mohair upholstery on the way for ice cream and candy.

POP/POP POP/POP. SHIT! We scream and hit the deck and bury our heads and wait for hot electric lines of pain to violate our young tender bodies. Duncan crouches, lowers his head but never lets go of the steering wheel. Pop/Pop. Two more shots crackle in the night. Duncan steps down on the gas pedal. We sideswipe a parked two-toned Mercury. Duncan peeks over the dashboard. After a couple more blocks, Duncan makes a squealing turn, blind and wide, down Lafayette Terrace, sending trash cans flying into the air before jumping a tall curbstone, crushing a mailbox and flipping the car over onto its roof sending us into a slow, spinning, surreal slide down Lafayette before coming to a graceful upside-down stop in front of a fire hydrant adjacent to The Empire Café. All is quiet on the Lafayette front for the moment as we sit on our heads and sort things out. Duncan reaches up and shuts off the engine. A stack of parking tickets from behind a visor float down around us.

That was wild!

Anybody hurt?

I caught the steering wheel in the chest, Duncan says.

You OK?

I think so.

The blood is rushing to my head, Paulie says.

My heart’s pounding, TJ says.

That was some scare.

The best, TJ says.

I’ve been scared but never like that before.

You can’t buy scare like that.

We just did, Duncan says. We lost some serious cash.

We’re up, TJ tells him.

No way.

Just as Paulie flipped over the table, I grabbed the last pot. It was huge. Biggest pot of the night. I’m sure it put us in the black.

No wonder the Puerto Ricans are so pissed.

They’re pissed because Duncan insulted Miguel’s sister.

I thought he was pimping her?

He was.

She’s just a kid.

Puerto Rican girls mature early.

What do I know...his own sister... Damn, I thought they were Catholics.

A siren blares in the distance.

We should go now.

What about my car?

You got fire and theft?


Call it in stolen.

Pairs of fancy dancing shoes start shuffling around the car: black zippered boots, stilettos, and they’re rambling in this quick incoherent alcohol/amphetamine-induced urban slang.

TJ nods towards a set of perfect pretty little toes painted with sapphire nail polish.

He cranes his neck trying to look up the girl’s skirt.

Who invented stilettos?


He should be famous.

I agree.

He should have a statue.

How do you know it wasn’t a woman?

Not a chance.

The siren gets louder.

We need to leave now.

Duncan can’t open the driver’s door; he shimmies out the window. TJ forces open the passenger door and we roll out headfirst, clumsy but with elegant overtones, like street mimes. We jack-in-the-box up to our feet, stretch our necks, check to make sure everything is in working order, brush ourselves off and find that all the stylish upside-down dancing shoes are attached to a bunch of strung-out barflies with drinks in hand, wearing tank tops and too much jewelry and makeup. They’re gawking at us like we’re the floor show.

Paulie winks at Sapphire Toes.

She smiles back.

Some bad boy nudges her.

The siren is bearing down. There is a strong smell of gasoline in the air.

Duncan crouches on his hunches, bends and looks lovingly into the Malibu SS and says, See you around, sweetheart.

Couple of the barflies bend down to see who’s left in the car. They scratch their heads at the empty cab. We move off down Lafayette working on getting our swagger back when one of the barflies calls out to us. We turn; face him. A wiry skinny little dude is holding up a Zippo lighter. We shrug. He flips open the lighter with one hand and strikes the wheel at the same time. The flint sparks and the lighter flames up. The barfly flashes a wide gold-tooth grin, nods towards Duncan's upside-down automobile.

What’s he want?

Permission to torch your car.

I don’t give a flying fuck one way or the other, Duncan says and nods to the potential Puerto Rican arsonist to knock himself out.

You love that car. You know that.

I’ll get over it.

We get a couple more blocks away before the big BANG. A police cruiser with flashing lights and a caved-in front fender screams past; pretty soon a second cruiser, then a fire truck. That’s when we turn down a back alley, vault a Cyclone fence, and strut our best stuff across a cobblestone courtyard past a sputtering water fountain and turn into a cool damp concrete parking garage glowing neon red from all the exit signs. We’re looking for a Chevy to steal. The place is empty except for rows and rows of cement columns. Our footsteps echo around in the cave-like silence.

I need to take a leak.

So do I.

Me, too.

We each pick a column, step behind it and piss like race horses.

Christ, Duncan moans.

What now?

I must have taken that steering wheel harder than I thought.


I’m pissing red.

We’re all pissing neon red.

BIO: Robert Caporale’s most recent publications can be seen in Wildcat, The Café Irreal, Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly, The Lummox Journal, Confrontation, and The Avatar Review. He is finishing up a short story collection and thinking about a novel. He takes MFA workshops at the University of Massachusetts.

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