YEAR OFF

By Michael McGlade

 

“This guy’s clipped more cake-eaters than cancer.”

Six men in the booth and all of them staring now at Mike – the cake-eater, apparently. He didn’t know what to say, hadn’t a clue what they were talking about for the past hour, he’d been inducted into their group to pay for drinks. He hadn’t been able to think of an excuse to get away.

“Call him Le Gros,” the fat man said about his more portly partner. “And not just ’cause he’s a whale.”

Le Gros said, “Screw you guys!”

Chuckling now, double chins flapping, the empty beer bottles on the table chattering excitedly.

Then silence. All six of them now staring at Mike. The bar was practically empty, the doors barred for a lock-in, and the time somewhere close to dawn.

“What action you got goin on, cake-eater?”

Mike’s words stuttered out like a hiccup.

“You just jackin?”

They laughed at him.

Jackin?” Mike said. “Carjacking?”

His palms itched. He wished he was in the other booth with his friend Josh, who’d somehow talked them into this bar.

“Youse know how to steals cars?”

“Like that Gone in 60 Seconds film?”

Mike said, “It’s not like that in real life, not like the movies.”

All stared at him.

“How exactly youse steal a car, huh?”

He dry-gulped, his beer empty long ago and no money to pay for another … didn’t like to think what they’d do to him after finding out.

“Youse hot-wire it?” Le Gros said. “A seven series BMW, you twist the wires, get the starter motor going?”

“That doesn’t work.” They stared. “Cars today are more computer than machine.” It was true: he saw it in a documentary. “They’re impossible to hot wire,” he said. “But that doesn’t matter. All you need to do is jam a screwdriver in the keyhole and twist. Almost always works.” Exactly what the Discovery Channel documentary said.

“This kid might be legit, after all,” Le Gros said. “You get us another drink, cake-eater, might not need to break your arms.”

“Okay,” Mike said. “Back in a jiffy.”

Scuttling out of the booth, they laughed at him. He crossed to the opposite side where Josh had a booth with a wrinkly old-timer. Everybody here was ancient, always looks that way when you’ve just turned eighteen. He sidled next to Josh.

“Those guys are psychos,” Mike hissed. “What have you got me into here?”

“Don’t be a wet Tampax.”

The table contained a half-dozen untouched whiskeys, and the old-timer was sleeping upright, somehow, head drooped onto his chest.

“What’s with the Mummy Returns?”

“Because he looks like a corpse? Funny guy.”

“Let’s get out of here. They’re looking more drinks and I’m broke. I’ve no more money.”

“Money, uh?” the old-timer slurred, sitting forward now. “I gots lots of money.”

Josh said, “What’s that, Vinnie?”

Like he’d been waiting for this exact moment.

“Bopped two tizzun today.” He reached for a whiskey and missed the glass completely. “Had this huge case of money on ‘em.”

“Let’s go,” Mike said.

“Buy you kids a drink, you want. Celebrate retirement. Won’t need to ever work again.”

“Not when you pay taxes on those winnings,” Josh said.

“No taxes, not ever,” he said, head sagging to his chest. “Got it nice and safe in my place. And nobody knows.”



* * *



Josh and Mike exited the courtyard around back of the bar, having shimmied through the restroom window, and now made their way up Mulberry Street to the corner of Grand. All the stores had Italian names. Welcome to Little Italy.

“What the hell was that?” Mike said.

“Just some mob bar.”

“A fucking mob bar?”

“Why do you think everybody was dressed like a movie extra from a Martin Scorsese set?”

“You abandoned me with a bunch of Henry Hills? Why didn’t you warn me?”

“Mike, this is the first night of our year off. Wanted it to be an adventure.”

“That’s messed up, Josh. Only those guys thought I was some sort of carjacker…”

Josh said, “That guy, Vinnie, you think he was telling the truth about the money?”

Mike walked faster, almost running now.

“I ran out on Lucky Luciano’s bar bill. I’m a dead man. We need to get out of here.”

He glanced over his shoulder. Josh had a leather wallet, an old time thing looking like it had be carved straight from the cow.

“You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t. That’s not some mobster’s wallet?”

Josh read the driving license. “Vinnie’s real name is Vincent Hunter,” he said. “Lives just a couple blocks over.”

“We’re screwed. You screwed us, Josh.” Mike dashed onto the empty street, glancing both ways, praying for a taxi to get him to the hostel.

“I knew you’d chicken out.”

“Don’t do that. This isn’t a game.”

“Year off,” he said by way of explanation. “We’ve a whole year before going to college.” He jangled the wallet in Mike’s face. “We’re absolutely going to do this.”

“Do what exactly?”

“Go to Vinnie’s house to steal his money.”

 

* * *

 

They stood opposite the property on Elizabeth Street.

Mike said, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Why? We’re just standing. Nothing illegal about that.”

“No, the illegal bit is what happens next.”

“Cool it. I’m just looking is all.”

There was a large black door with drape-less windows either side, and dead pot plants on the second-floor fire escape.

“Kinda exciting, isn’t it. Stealing stolen loot from a mobster, uh?”

“We’ve a flight to catch in a couple hours…” Mike glanced around the empty street. “Feels like we’re being watched.”

“Nobody knows we’re here.”

“Everybody in that mob bar saw us. They know you were talking to Vinnie all evening.”

“Enough already.”

“We’ve a whole year travelling around, why push it tonight?”

“A year of boring crap, you going to be like this,” Josh said. “How much money you got on you?”

Mike chewed his bottom lip.

“This is dumb,” he said. “You really think you’re cut out to be a doctor, acting like this?”

“You’re certainly anal enough to be a lawyer.”

Both of them friends since kindergarten, and had deferred their first year at Harvard to travel around South America.

Mike said, “Why would he keep the money in his own house?”

“You heard him.”

“But his own house. That’s just dumb.”

“Nobody expects gangsters to be rocket scientists.”

“Why would he tell you the location?”

“Must’ve thought we were made guys, us being in the bar and all.”

“What’d you tell him about us?”

“Nothing.” Batted it back much too quickly.

“No details of where we’re from, nothing?”

“Just said we were hitchhiking across the States, in New York for a couple days, leaving today. Which is true. The leaving part, that is. I guess Vinnie felt the need to brag.”

Josh crossed the street and stood in front of the large black door.

“This is a felony,” Mike said. “You know what they do to fresh fish like us in jail? They get sodomized. I’m not getting buggered for a nighttime burglary.”

“It’s dawn now.”

“Not the point I’m making—”

“Don’t have a panic attack.”

“I’m going to study law at Harvard. I can’t burglarize someone’s house. We could get twenty years for this.”

“Quit blowing smoke up your skirt.”

“Felony robbery is five years in state prison. No probation. No slap on the wrist. Just state prison. Doesn’t matter we have no criminal record and I do community service at an old people’s home.” Mike raked sweat off his forehead. “After we’re convicted of robbery in the First Degree, it’s the judge’s choice to sentence anywhere up to twenty-five years. It’s one of the most serious crimes in the book in New York State.”

“This isn’t robbery. It’s burglary.”

“Residential burglary is treated as a violent felony offence. Anywhere from three-and-a-half to fifteen years.”

“Shit, you really do know your stuff. You’ll make a decent lawyer—”

“I’m not going in there.”

“Seeing as we’re here, can’t we at least have a peak in the window?”

Josh leaned into the pane and cupped his fingers around his eyes to get a better look. Mike did the same on the other widow. There was no furniture inside. Bare wood floors. Paint blistering off the walls.

“It’s vacant,” Mike said. “Completely empty. Nobody’s living here.”

“Then it won’t matter if we go inside.”

“Breaking and entering?”

Josh tried the door latch and it was unlocked, the handle turning.

“It’s a sign—”

“That this is a trap.”

“Firstly, it’s an empty property,” Josh said. “Second, we’re just here to return the wallet we found, maybe looking a reward. We’re the good guys.”

The door opened fully.

 

* * *

 

The air had a musty gone-off reek, like it hadn’t circulated in an age. Each room they entered was devoid of furniture. Weird.

They climbed the stairs and on the second floor spilt to cover more ground. Mike took the front and at the first door his hand trembled. Inside, nothing. Same with the next. At the third room, he brazenly entered, even strolled around inside and peered out the window. An approaching taxi slowed. Panicking, Mike hustled into the hallway, couldn’t see Josh, and sprinting toward the far end, each door along the way wide open, he came to the only one partly ajar. In a jumbling rush, he flung the door open.

Josh was frozen, face colorless as paraffin, staring at something behind the door, and the door itself, Mike now realized, had definitely crushed into something solid because it hadn’t swung all the way to the wall like it should have. Craning his neck, he noticed the soles of a pair of black wingtips and following the legs behind the door saw a man wearing a black suit and tie slumped unconscious on the floor, nose busted. Out of his hand had slipped a pistol with a silencer.

The man groaned, coming to. Mike scrambled for the pistol, grabbed it, and backed into the center of the room alongside Josh. No furniture in this room except for a metal cot, the sheets crumpled. Had the man been sleeping fully clothed?

“Let’s get out of here, Josh.”

“But everybody in the bar saw us. This guy saw us. We’re dead, we leave him alive, we’re dead, Mike.”

“Josh, we’re on a flight to Mexico City in a couple hours…”

Mike let the sentence trail off. The guy on the ground was awake and sat up. He’d heard everything, including their names, and now he studied their faces, seemed to be committing them to memory.

“We have to finish this,” Josh said. “Can’t leave now.”

“We go to the cops,” Mike said. “Tell them everything, we might get off.”

The mobster reached into his jacket pocket and drew a pistol.

Josh grabbed the gun from Mike and shot two, three times. Sounding like a weak cough. Mike snatched the pistol back too late. The mobster wheezed like an asthma sufferer, then deflated.

“Chrissakes, call an ambulance.”

“No point,” Josh said. “He’s dead.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Three times in the chest. He’s dead.”

Crimson blossomed the man’s white shirt.

“We’re screwed,” Mike spasmed. “We’re really screwed. Why’d you shoot him, Josh?”

“The gun… Jeez, how’d we get ourselves into this mess?”

We? WE! You’re the one stole Vinnie’s wallet. You’re the one…” Thinking about it now, “All that booze on the table. You were buying him drinks all evening. You wanted him drunk. You knew he had money stashed somewhere, and made it your business to get him so wasted he’d let slip, that it?”

“I wish I was that devious, man. It just happened, is all. I bought him drinks because he’s a mobster and I didn’t want to upset him.”

“You don’t think his dead partner might be a tad upsetting?”

Mike jabbed the pistol at Josh while he spoke, and the strained tearful grimace to his face, the way his finger curled around the trigger, he was about ready to lose control completely.

“Don’t do anything rash.”

“Like what, shoot someone?”

“He was armed. It’s self-defense.”

Mike paced the room, muttering to himself, and kept glancing at Josh, finger still on the trigger.

Meanwhile Josh sicked-up on his sneakers, and bent over now, bile stringing off his nose, a fecund vomit searing his nostrils as he kept his head between his knees…

Then he saw it.

Under the bed was a suitcase.

Josh fell to his knees and dragged the suitcase out. He popped the hasps, lifted the lid. Mike went to his knees alongside him and they both stared. Lifted a bundle of banknotes, Mike riffled through it – all hundreds.

“Talk about the Benjamins.”

“There must be a half million here,” Mike said. “What do we do?”

“Keep it.”

“You just shot a guy, isn’t that bad enough?”

“Precisely what I mean.”

“I wasn’t agreeing with you. In fact, I’m so far away from seeing eye to eye with you on this—”

“What I’m saying is this dead guy doesn’t need the money. We killed for it. It’s ours now whether you like it or not. Now we have a choice, turn ourselves in, which is pretty fucking dumb, or keep the money.”

“How exactly, Don Corleone, do we just keep it?”

“Bus station locker.”

“Come again.”

“We stash the money, maybe a locker in the bus station, then get our flight and disappear. In a year when we’re back in the US, we go to the locker. All this will have died down by then.”

Died? That a joke? There’s a murdered man here and we need to go to the police.”

“We’ll be able to pay off our college fees,” Josh said. “Think about it. There’s half a million here. We’re set for life.”

“You’re right, that’s all it cost – a life.”

“Keep the money, we get to graduate college debt free,” Josh said. “I’m looking at loans of a hundred thousand. With this money…”

Mike snapped the suitcase lid shut.

“It’s not as if we stole the money,” Josh said. “Vinnie did. From a drug pusher. If anything, we’re using the money for something good. I’m going to be a doctor. You want to study law. We don’t take this money, Vinnie’s just going to use it for crime. We have to take it. It’s a public service.”

Mike chewed his bottom lip.

“I’m looking at eighty thousand in student loans, too.”

Josh grinned.

“We get out of the city,” Mike said, “our flight’s leaving now. Stash the money and in a year, if it’s still there in the locker, we keep it.”

Mike lifted the suitcase and made for the door. Josh glanced at the pistol on the floor, grabbed it and following behind Mike now, as they went downstairs, the pistol was aimed at the back of Mike’s head, the target bobbing in and out of the gun sight with each step descended … one accidental slip of the finger and Josh wouldn’t have to worry about Mike growing a conscience, turning the money over to the cops.

At bottom of the stairs, Mike stood frozen. Josh came alongside him, then saw it too.

Vinnie was leaning against the outside of the entrance, catching his breath, and now standing upright, swaying, the door handle turned. He was coming inside.

Josh glanced at the pistol in his hand, then Mike.

The first death was self-defense, but this time it would be premeditated murder.

“No, Josh. Don’t.”

 Vinnie lurched into the hallway, noticed the two intruders, then the suitcase. He reached into his jacket pocket and grabbed a pistol.

Josh had the pistol locked at his side, unmoving.

Vinnie’s gun out now and coming at them, finger on the trigger, him swaying unsteadily on his legs. They were both dead unless Mike did something. He couldn’t let it end like this, not like this. A whole life ahead of them. But what could he do? Throw the suitcase?

It slipped from his hand, clattered to the floor like a dead thing.

Mike grabbed Josh’s hand, still gripping the pistol, and jammed his own finger on the trigger, clicking on it, firing shots, bullets pinging into the stucco and, as he brought the gun up and into line with Vinnie, watched a hole appear in the man’s chest, the white shirt stained red as Vinnie slumped to the floor. But by then Mike had already grabbed the suitcase.




Michael McGlade is an Irish writer with 95+ short stories in journals such as Spinetingler, The Big Click, Plan B, and Both Barrels anthology by One Eye Press. He holds a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Ireland. Represented by the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, he’s currently writing his debut novel.

“The Chunk” appeared in omdb! in August, 2014 and “Mop Up Afterwardsappeared in June, 2013.

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Copyright 2017 Michael McGlade. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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