March 14, 2016 by RJ
Kraj caught up with James, the man who owed him money and favors, by following him to his car behind the Topps supermarket. James had left a trail of piss behind him. Kraj figured he was lucky he hadn’t started pissing inside the store. Kraj took a collapsible baton from his left sleeve and ducked behind a Dumpster. Only a long row of shopping carts stretched like a section of intestine between them. James fiddled with his keys, trying to get them out of his damp pants, and Kraj took the opportunity and after winding up, slammed the baton between James’s legs.
James collapsed with a gurgle, cupping his nuts with both hands. “Where is my money, stupid fuck?” Kraj said.
“I don’t have any of your money, I told you. Mikael has it,” James said between his teeth.
“I have already spoken to Mikael. You are lying to save your teeth,” Kraj said.
“I am not lying. Go ask Mikael,” James said. Kraj flipped the baton hard onto James’s forehead.
“Give me your wallet,” Kraj said, disgusted. James had forty dollars and a debit card in his mother’s name. Kraj took it all and tossed the wallet on the ground beside James, who was crying now.
“I don’t have any money to get home. That’s my gas money.”
“Don’t forget the meth,” Kraj said. “Degenerate scum.”
“I don’t do that shit no more,” James said, trying to get up. Kraj whipped the baton at the inside of James’s left leg. Two hits and James went down again. “Why do you have to do that?”
“Keep lying,” Kraj said. “I’ll beat you blue.” Kraj looked off into the distance toward the Southport Correctional Facility. His uncle had worked on one of the units that built the prison. It was a so-called supermax facility for very dangerous men. Kraj feared it, and he operated his life and business next door to it. It should have served as a warning, but after war, what could phase him? He threw a five-dollar bill at James, who grabbed it out of the air.
“Thank you,” James said.
“Fuck off. Mikael better know something, or I come back to you.”
“All I know is, I don’t have it,” James said. He’d gotten some color back to his face, but his left leg would be in pain for a while. Enough of a warning, Kraj thought. He nodded at James and turned his back around the corner of the building into the parking lot. Kraj sat in the front seat of his cramped Subaru and rubbed his forehead. James, the club’s manager, had really been his last hope. He knew even if Mikael had his money, made by working security at Mikael’s club, the decision on whether to pay it would go over Mikael’s head and become Rick’s decision, and Rick didn’t like being forced into anything. The tough guy thing would not go over with him.
The engine started with a cough and Kraj directed the Subaru into the drive-through of the McDonald’s at the end of the strip mall. He wanted to see if Camilla was on shift. He attended the drive-through at least three times a day whether or not he wanted their shitty coffee and toadburgers, because Camilla had captured him in a way no woman except his sister ever had. She stood a measly inch over five feet and weight maybe 90 pounds, all of it in ass and jet-black hair. Her Spanish was good, so she was a shift manager now. Occasionally she would give him timed-out food, but that wasn’t why he came. He loved her, and she knew it, but didn’t return the sentiment, so she treated him poorly, and he in turn treated his collections route contacts poorly. The line sat five deep today, though. The thirty-five bucks he had in his pocket was it until Mikael ponied up the cash, or God forbid, he had to take up with Rick.
The drive-through attendant it was not Camilla, Kraj noted sourly. “Can I have a coffee, two cheeseburgers and a large Diet Coke?”
“Hi sweetie,” the attendant said. Kraj ignored her.
“Does Camilla work today?” Kraj asked.
“No, sweetie, but I’ll be here after my shift,” she said, bending over at the window and showing him the top of her breasts.
“No, thank you,” Kraj said absent-mindedly. He barely heard her say fuck off through his preoccupation. She handed him the drinks first then he waited another 30 seconds for the bag.
“Have a nice day, asshole,” the attendant said.
“Thank you,” Kraj said, driving out into the bright sunlight.
As it turned out, Kraj had wasted the drive to the club. Mikael wasn’t there, and he couldn’t break the rankings for a measly five hundred bucks, even if it was the only thing holding him solvent. Kraj owed everyone except his landlord, who let him stay in his one-room basement hovel as long as he cut the grass and did other household tasks to her approval. He had a can of tuna left and maybe three eggs. The 35 dollars he had left got him a big bottle of vodka and a couple limes. Vodka gimlets all night long. Just as he had turned into the street, Mikael came charging in on a Kawasaki Ninja, so Kraj turned around in the middle of the street and angled back into the parking lot, where he caught Mikael with his helmet still on.
“Mikael, you skinny whoremonger,” Kraj said.
“Why do you talk like that?” Mikael said. “It makes you seem more foreign than you already are.
“My English is good,” Kraj said. “Better than yours.”
“But I get more pussy,” Mikael said, and winked. Kraj had no response. “You want your money, hey?” Kraj nodded from his car seat. “Here you go.” Mikael handed him five hundred dollar bills from a fanny pack.
“That thing makes you look gay,” Kraj said, indicating the fanny pack. Mikael shrugged, and Kraj backed up rapidly, turning up the street instead of down, toward his place, but instead, toward the strip mall McDonald’s. Sometimes Camilla came in on her off-days to do the deposit and daily numbers. Kraj could feel his day getting better by the second.
The strip mall business had calmed considerably by the time he made it back to the McDonald’s. He parked near the back door so he could see Camilla come in and out. Kraj saw immediately he’d guessed correctly. Camilla’s 2009 Pontiac Vibe was parked near the grease trap. He took a knife out of his pocket and quartered a lime in his hand, then filled his plastic soda glass halfway with vodka, dumping half the lime in it as well, two pieces. The vodka tasted vaguely of Diet Coke, but he didn’t care.
It was probably odd, this thing he had for Camilla. She did resemble his sister, but he didn’t want to fuck his sister. The reasoning made sense to him, and hopefully he would never have to explain it to anyone but himself or a prison shrink, if things went really badly. He shuddered as the hot vodka hit his stomach. Glancing at the dashboard, he could see it was only 2:25. She generally made the money run before three, since the banks closed an hour after that. So he had 40 minutes to kill, give or take.
He kept the engine running so he could max the AC, and soon the temp had lowered into his tolerable range, near freezer-cold. He’d gotten through around half the vodka and his thoughts were expansive. Today the world was lovely and green and as long as the vodka held out, he’d be comfortable.
At 3:15 Camilla walked out with huge eyes, her hair tied back in a bun, a blue bag of cash, and a man behind her, also in a uniform, but holding a semi-automatic handgun at her waist. Camilla looked so scared! Kraj reached under his seat for his handgun and thrust it, his old Glock 19, into the front of his slacks. It had been with him a long time. He debated getting out of the car then and there, but the strip mall would soon be full of people for the shift switch, and he didn’t want to cause a scene. He let them get into Camilla’s car and after five minutes followed them to the First Bank of Elmira, just a few blocks away.
Friday, the bank parking lot jacked full of cars, and Camilla parked near the back. Maybe she’d noticed Kraj following them. Kraj got out of the Subaru and slammed the door, making the man with the gun look his way. Kraj saw the hole appear in his car before he heard the soft spit of the silenced handgun. Camilla screamed. Kraj took three steps toward the man and let go a shot of his own, which missed the man. Another two step put him right at the man’s throat, which Kraj grabbed with one hand, clubbing at the man’s head fiercely with the Glock. By now Camilla had climbed the man’s back and begun to scratch at his eyes. The man in the uniform showed no sign she was even there, tossing her off with one hand while the other tried in vain to get Kraj’s hand from his throat. Kraj brought the Glock back up and shot the man in the stomach.
The man slapped at Camilla and knocked her down on his way into the front seat of her car. He got in and started in and careened out of the parking lot and into the wind. Kraj helped Camilla up as he tucked the Glock into his slacks again.
“You OK?” Kraj said, breathing hard.
“I’m fine,” Camilla said. “Scared a little.”
“Too bad he got away with your money,” Kraj said, patting her on the arm.
“Fuck that noise,” Camilla said. She held up the blue canvas bag as a totem. Sirens began to cut through the air.
“Let’s get out of here, Kraj said. “I can’t involve the police.” Camilla nodded and got into the passenger seat. Kraj got in and handed her his drink. “Have some,” he said. She took it and drained what was left. “You’re something else,” Kraj said. He turned out into the traffic. “Where to?” he said.
“Your place,” Camilla said, the hint of a nasty smile on her face. “I think that man got away with all our money. All two thousand bucks of it.”
“Two grand?” Kraj said incredulously.
“That could make a hell of a party,” she said.
“It’s possible,” Kraj said, then began laughing. Camilla joined him. The cops thundered past them in all kinds of a hurry. Kraj was just glad he’d cleaned his room this morning. It was the best of all possible worlds.
Rusty Barnes, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, has published three books of poems and three books of fiction, including the flash fiction collection Breaking it Down and the novel Reckoning. His work has appeared in over two hundred journals and anthologies, among them Post Road, Change Seven, Red Rock Review, Barn Owl Review, and Interstice. He is sole proprietor of Fried Chicken and Coffee, a blogazine of rural and Appalachian literature and concerns.