Family by John Biesecker

The hotel lights flash, two blocks away. Just one more splash of neon in the corridor of ugly lights. Welcome to Vegas, Bobby.  Like Atlantic City, only worse. My hands look old in the pink and green light.

Hell, they are old.

Nobody walking by even glances in the pick-up. Nobody to see me slidin’ the silencer on the gun or tuckin’ the gun in the duffel bag.

Life sure was simpler two weeks ago.

I was workin’ behind the counter. Had just loaded a gallon of Flax Blue in the shaker, pressed the green button, stood waitin’ for it to finish. Was wipin’ my hands on my orange apron when I heard, “Tex? Tex? What the fuck you doing out here in bumble-fuck Colorado?”

Tex? I recognized that voice. Wasn’t so sure I was glad to hear it. “Jimmy? Jimmy Risso! What are you doin’ here?” Jimmy Risso. My “old pal”. My old life. The only guy who came to see me when I was in the joint.

“I was just on my way to Aspen.  Got a little business to attend to. But you? What the fuck?”

“I’m workin’.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“The paint department at Home Depot?” Jimmy looked me up and down, like he couldn’t believe it, like I was crazy or something. Like my flannel shirt and work boots were some sort of neon pink space suit.

I glanced both directions and lowered my voice. “How’d you find me, Jimmy? Does anyone else know I’m here?”

“Find you? Hell, I didn’t find you, Tex. I just ran in to you. Just a fucking coincidence. And no, Eddie doesn’t know where you are. But I think he might like to, you know what I’m saying?” Jimmy laughed and shrugged his thin shoulders.

I didn’t laugh. Didn’t even smile. Kept my voice low. “Why you goin’ to Aspen? You ain’t never had no business there before.” This wasn’t no coincidence, him bein’ there. I wasn’t stupid. He knew that.

“It’s not business business. It’s personal business.” Jimmy took a deep breath, looked down at his Italian loafers. Ran a quick hand through slick-backed hair. “Remember Rochelle? The bitch split, took my fucking money and ran to Aspen.”

“I’m sorry.” I actually felt bad for not trustin’ him.

“Ah, hell, don’t be. I don’t miss her. I just miss the fucking money!” He looked back up with the same damn smile I remembered, the one he’d been smilin’ since the fifth grade, when Momma moved me from the back woods of West Virginia to Newark, New Jersey. Jimmy was the only guy to make friends with me, the big, strange-talkin’ kid. Who knows why?  Maybe he took pity on me. Maybe he saw somebody who needed a friend. Or maybe cause Jimmy was always tiny, even then, and needed the protection. And I could fight. Jimmy watched the other kids learn that the hard way.

He’s the one who gave me the nickname “Tex” cause of the way I talked. Too slow and Southern for Jersey. Too slow in general. We’d stayed friends till the time I disappeared. Almost like brothers.

“Man, it’s been a long time, Bobby. I don’t have much time right now, but maybe on my way back through tomorrow we can get a beer. Reminisce about the good old days. You want to?”

“Sure thing, Jimmy. How bout the Wagon Wheel, maybe around six. It’s the only bar we got here, so you can’t miss it. North side of town on Elk Street.”

“You got it, Tex.”  He walked away.

I wondered what the hell he was gettin’ at Home Depot to take to his ol’ Lady.

Nothin’ subtle about the hotel. He ain’t changed none. Still likes the glitz. Always was into money, even before he had any. There was a time where other things mattered, though. Important things. Like in those early days.

Jimmy and me was always together. Stood up for each other. Protected each other.  I may have been quiet, but he talked a lot. His mouth would get him in trouble and I’d bail him out with my fists. Me, I never was much for words. People always thought I was strange, maybe retarded or somethin’. And once you get a reputation it sticks.

One time we went on a double date. Jimmy in the front seat with Amber “Sure Thing” Fagin, me in the back with some freckled girl whose name I can’t remember. I kinda had a thing for her, though. We parked down by the river, where there wasn’t much light and kids always went to fool around. I was tryin’ to unhook her bra, but couldn’t get it undone. Probably nerves, never was much good with women. Still ain’t. So I end up breakin’ her bra, snappin’ something off. And she started goin’ off on me, callin’ me an idiot. Sayin’ people were right, I was some sort of retard.

Jimmy freakin’ flipped.

“He talks slow because he thinks about what he’s going to fucking say before he opens his fucking trap. You should try it sometime!” he screamed from the front seat. Tossed Amber’s shirt at her and pointed to the door, “Get the fuck out! Now! Both of you.”

We left the girls there, sittin’ by the river, yellin’ at us as we drove away.

“Why’d you do that, Jimmy?”

“She deserved it. I heard her making fun of you yesterday, behind your back. I didn’t want to say nothing, cause I know you got a thing for her, but fuck her! You and me, we have to fucking stick together.” I nodded. I couldn’t believe he done that for me.

“But what about Amber? You know, Sure Thing?”  Gettin’ a little something was a big priority in those days. The biggest in fact. I mean, we was high school boys after all.

“She’s an idiot.  She was there too, the bitch, saying the same things. It’s been bothering me. No pussy’s worth that.” We drove to the beach, drinkin’ the whole way, and watched the sun come up, throwin’ bottles into the surf.

The lobby is loud and busy. People walkin’ all different directions.  I’m a little out of practice with this. Nerves. Hope no one looks at me funny, like I’m suspicious or somethin’. But this is Vegas. Everyone looks funny. Everyone’s a little crazy lookin’.  Nobody even glances at the big man with the duffle bag, walkin’ like he’s supposed to be there. Past the bellman who ignores me, past the concierge guy, right to the elevator.

When I pulled into the gravel lot beside the Wagon Wheel, I knew Jimmy was there. Who else would be drivin’ a big black Caddy in this town?  I parked my old Ford pick-up right beside it.

He was at a small table in the corner, flirtin’ up Lizzy Kreamer. Lizzy was only eighteen and not even cute, but that was Jimmy. His ego needed it, I suppose. Like the glitz and the money. Needed to be a big shot. He was probably splashin’ some money around too. I sat across from him. There was already a pitcher and an empty glass waitin’. Jimmy stuck to his rum and coke.

“So how’d it go, Jimmy?”

“She’s a bitch. Says she’s taking half of fucking everything.”

“I’m sorry.”  I barely knew her. They met right before I got sent away. She didn’t seem like the type to take his money. Didn’t seem like the type to really care too much about money. I think that’s why I liked her. Jimmy talked about her a lot when he came to visit. Seemed like true love. Guess nothing really lasts.

People change.

“Fuck her!” He raised his glass for a toast. I did like-wise, our glasses never touchin’, just a quick raise and a long drink. Even though we hadn’t seen each other in a year, and hadn’t sat down to a drink together in eight years, it felt just like old times. Almost like nothin’ changed. Just two buddies tellin’ their troubles. Only instead of some dive in Newark with the Giants game on, it was in Delta, Colorado. And there wasn’t no TV at the Wagon Wheel.

“Tex, just what in the hell are you doing out here?”

“I told you. I’m workin. Livin’.”

“Here?” Jimmy spread his hands wide, looked around.

“Why not? It’s nice here. Quiet. Got me a nice girlfriend, Lucy. She’s divorced with two grown kids. Works at the deli counter at the Safeway.” I shrugged, took another drink.

“And that’s it? You’re happy here, living the boring life?”

“I am, Jimmy. I’m done with all that stuff. I’m done with it. That’s why I disappeared. All I ever wanted was a simple life. Now I got it. I’m happy. I’m savin’ up, gonna open my own house paintin’ business once I save enough for a compressor, new truck, stuff like that. Lucy’s gonna help me.”

“C’mon, Bobby. You used to make cash. Serious fucking moola. You lived the good life. You had a fucking Corvette. Now you just want a fucking pick-up truck? What the fuck?”

“It wasn’t no good life. Not at all.” Bubbles somehow clung to the bottom of my mug no matter how hard I swirled it. “You call what I did a good life?  It was horrible. I ain’t proud of it. And it stole seven years from my life. And you was the only person to visit me in the pen, you know. No one else cared. No one. As long as I didn’t name no names.”

Jimmy got quiet. Looked down for a second. He sipped his drink, looked around again at the people in faded jeans and t-shirts, dirty boots. A far cry from his world.

“Jimmy. I’m serious.  I’m done. You can’t tell Eddie where I am.”

“I’m not going to fucking tell him, Tex. Relax.”  He looked at me, smiled that damn smile again. But it didn’t seem quite right. Almost like it hurt him.

We didn’t say nothin’ for awhile. It was kinda nice drinkin’ with a pal. I hadn’t made new friends other than Lucy and she wasn’t much of a drinker.

He took a deep breath, looked at me long enough to make me uncomfortable. “But maybe you could do something for me.” His voice got quiet. Not like his normal, bigger-than-shit voice. Here it was. I only had skills in one thing.

“Bobby, I need you to kill that bitch for me.”

### Some sort of cheesy jazz tune plays in the elevator. I want to check on the duffle bag, but can’t. There’s some old lady beside me. Seems a little drunk. She’s got no idea she stands two feet from a gun and a shit-load of money in the duffle bag. A lot of money. Just like my first job. Easy money. Pop worked twenty years diggin’ coal before he died, made only a little more than I did in twenty minutes.

Money’s what attracted Jimmy to the Family. He was always looking for a way to get rich. Be a big shot. But he said he needed me. He said they was lookin’ for someone to do some goon work for them, crack a few heads. But he wasn’t big enough. I was. I looked mean, too. Maybe they’d take Jimmy with me, if we came as a package deal.

He was my only friend. I did it for him. I guess I didn’t know what it would turn into.

It turned out that he had something I didn’t, though. Something the Family really liked. He had a knack for figurin’ out how to make money. Lots of it. And so Jimmy moved up the ranks. He brought me along with him, his personal enforcer. Crack a few heads. Make some cash. Easy money.

Then, one time he told me that Eddie wanted me to kill somebody. Not a shake down, not just scare the guy, but make him disappear. Quiet-like, no witnesses, no body. I said no, I wouldn’t do it. But Jimmy told me it was just this one time, and I’d make a bucket of money. Just one time.

I was stupid. I did it. Guy’s face still pops up in my nightmares now and then.  Don’t know if he deserved it or not. Never asked. Just did it. But then they had me. There was no way out. I knew too much. It was stick with the plan, follow orders, or end up like the poor fuck I buried in that cornfield. Or the poor fucks that joined him over the years.

I looked at the ceiling of the Wagon Wheel.  Watched the lazy fan try and push the haze of cigarette smoke.  Couldn’t believe he was askin’ this.

“I’m done with that. I told you.” I tried not to get pissed. This was Jimmy, after all.

“I know what you said. But I can’t get divorced. No way that bitch gets half, Bobby. No way! And as much as I’d love to pull the fucking trigger on her myself, I’d be suspect numero uno, the pissed-off husband.  I need someone else to do it while I have an alibi. It’s one last job, Bobby.”

“Why me, Jimmy? Why me?”

“Two reasons. First, we’re family. You’re like my brother. You’ll do it for me, I know.  Second. You’re good at it. You won’t get caught. You never got caught, all those times.” He was right. I was good.  Only thing I’d ever been good at.

Never woulda’ got caught, neither. Someone squealed. Someone from the Family. I wanted out and they knew it. So they sent me a message, I guess. No one ever leaves the Family.

“Except the last one.” I looked at Jimmy, who looked down at his drink.  “No way. I can’t. I’m done. I’m out of the business.”

“I’ll pay ya. A lot.”

“It ain’t about money.” Something he probably couldn’t understand.

“Just one more job, Bobby. Last one.”

The hallway’s got that ugly red carpet hotels seem to think implies class. Some little Mexican woman smiles and keeps pushin’ her cart down the hallway, right past the door.  3-1-4.  The numbers gleam, shiny gold to go with the implied class. The lady disappears around the corner, leaves me alone except the voice coming from behind the door. A one-sided conversation, probably on the phone.

One more job. One more fuckin’ job.

Two days after the conversation at the Wagon Wheel, I got a call at work. It was Jimmy.

“Jimmy, what the hell. I’m at work”

“I know, I know. But you never gave me your home phone.”

There was a reason for that. “What do you want?”

“Just want you to reconsider.”

“No fuckin’ way.”

“Well, just so you know, to help sway your decision, I put a duffle bag with fifty grand in you hall closet. Consider it a little help for your painting business.”

He was at my house?

“You was at my house? I don’t want your fuckin’ money!”

“You can start your business, Bobby. Think about it. Just one last job, and it would jump start your new life. Another fifty grand once it’s done.”

“I ain’t doin’ it, Jimmy.”

“Relax. It’ll be easy. I’ll be in Vegas, splashing money, using my credit card. Big time alibi. Remember.  November 3rd. That’s the day.”

“Why you doin’ this to me?”

“I’m not fucking doing anything to you. We’re helping each other out. Do it for me, your buddy. We’re family. Like brothers. Who fucking came to see you while you were in prison? You’re the one who got out and disappeared, never let me know where you were.“

Like brothers?

“I had to do that. You know that.”

“It’s just one last job, Bobby. One more.”

My breath sounds loud in my ears. I ain’t ready to open the door. Don’t want to. One last job. Jimmy’s right. This is the last one. The one-sided conversation stops at my quick knock.

“Who is it?” A muffled voice. Jimmy.

“It’s me.”

The door swings in and he just stands there, like he’s in shock. He sticks his head out, glances quick in both directions before yanking me in and shuttin’ the door.

“Bobby? What the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in Aspen.” He looks edgy. Maybe nervous.

“Rochelle ain’t in Aspen, is she?”

He walks to the nightstand. Picks up his drink. Takes a giant gulp. He looks scared. He should be.

“I know you was settin’ me up.”

He sits on the bed.  Rubs his chin and blinks fast.

The gun feels comfortable in my hand. Comfortable. I hate what that says about me. It ain’t right. And neither is pointin’ it at Jimmy. “That was Eddie on the phone, wasn’t it? You guys tryin’ to reel me back in. It ain’t right. You screwin’ me for money.

He don’t answer.  Just looks at the floor.

“I know you was the one that snitched. I always kinda knew.”

It’s real quiet. No sounds but the hum of the mini-fridge. And a car horn somewhere outside. Jimmy swallows, sighs. Gives me this odd smile that don’t make no sense.

“I may talk slow, but like you always says, that don’t mean I’m stupid.” The gun shakes a little, the first time that’s ever happened. “That why you came to visit me in the joint? You feel guilty for snitchin’? Or is it because you was still watchin’ me. Makin’ sure I didn’t betray Eddie. Gettin’ paid to keep an eye on me?”

He’s still givin’ me that odd look, but still don’t say nothin’.

“You chose the money over me, Jimmy. You chose money over our friendship. Never thought I’d see that happen.”

He leans back against the headboard, almost looks happy. “I’m sorry, Bobby. You’re right. I’m a shit. A worthless, fucking shit. But I didn’t do it for the fucking money. I want you to know that.” His grin disappears and he looks bone tired. “I never had a choice. Eddie’s got me by the balls. Always has. He already knew where you were. But he wanted to try and pull you back in before he killed you. Wanted me to set you up so he can blackmail you back in. And he said he’d kill Rochelle unless I did it.  He even had me bugged the entire time we talked. Didn’t trust me. For good reason, I guess.  But I knew you’d figure it out, Bobby. You’re not stupid. I always knew that.”

We stare at each other. Me just standin’ there, gun pointed, not doin’ nothin’. He rubs his eyes. Looks at me like he’s already dead.

“Bobby, this wasn’t about you anyway.” His voice drops almost to a whisper and he looks at the beige carpet. I ain’t seen him like this in years. No big personality. No loud voice. Just the skinny kid from the school yard. “Rochelle hates what I do. Says it’s morally reprehensible. And you know what? She’s right. That’s why she left me.” He shrugs. Looks a thousand years old. “But they’ll kill Rochelle if I try and leave. I’m fucked no matter what.” He looks up, still sounds like he’s empty. “There’s only one way out of the Family. But I can’t do it myself.  I just can’t do that to her. I need you. They’ll let her alone if you do it. Like my plan got fucked up or something. ” He shrugs.  Downs the rest of his drink on one gulp. Stands there, facin’ me. Four feet away. “There’s two hundred thousand in the closet. It’s supposed to be my pay-off. It’s your escape. There’s a fake passport, too.”  Neither of us breathe. “This is the only chance for either of us.”

The gun’s shakin’.  He looks like he’s almost gonna cry. So am I.

Then Jimmy smiles. That same smile from our first day in the school yard. Nods. “Do it for me.“

One last job.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Biesecker lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he writes in the tiny spaces of his hectic life. His stories have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Vine Leaves, Epiphany, and more. Visit him at JohnBiesecker.com to see more of his work.  Or just to say hi. 

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