Sung J. Woo
Whoever said there's no honor among thieves was right. Trust, friendship, and loyalty, sure -- but mostly there's just policy.
There were five of us in the bathroom -- not including Chuckie -- Eduardo, Two-Tone, Grease, Tony, and of course, me. I tiptoed and stretched, but I still couldn't see over Two-Tone's huge head. Two-Tone smelled of something awful, a cross between garlic, rotten cheese, and the locker room at the Y.
"Why the fuck do all you guys have to be here?" Chuckie said, his pants down, his face red, sitting on the toilet.
"Because we don't trust you, that's why, Chuckie," Eduardo said. "Who knows, maybe you'll swallow it, you know?"
"Give me a fucking break," Chuckie said. "Is it my fault I got constipated? It's all that garlic shit pizza we ate."
"Hey, I liked that stuff," Two-Tone said. "My mother used to make it all the time."
"Shut up," Eduardo said, "you guys are giving me a headache." He sat down on the edge of the bathtub.
"Oh shit," Chuckie said, "it's ripping. I can't do this, Eduardo." I crouched down and looked at his bright red face between Two-Tone's legs.
"You get your asshole ripped," Eduardo said, "we can sew it up. Grease's real good at that, right?"
"I ain't touching nowhere nohow," Grease said. "I ain't going near his hole."
And everyone laughed, even Eduardo, even Chuckie.
"Oh shit!" Chuckie screamed. "Oh shit oh shit oh shit it's coming out, oh shit!" His face turned purple and he was shaking all over.
"Holy shit," Grease said, running out of the bathroom. Then Two-Tone, Tony, and finally me. I slammed the door behind me.
"What the fuck was that he ate that stinks so bad?" Two-Tone asked us, laughing.
"And Eduardo's still with him," Tony said. "I guess he really doesn't trust him."
Me and Grease and Two-Tone exchanged looks. Eduardo trusted Chuckie; Eduardo trusted all of us. Tony had been with us for the last couple of months and he still didn't understand. He was a bit slow but pretty good at busting into safes.
"It's okay, Chuckie," Eduardo was saying in the bathroom. We all leaned closer to the door to listen. "You're doing fine."
Then silence -- then a whole bunch of grunts -- then a final, whopping yell of pain and relief. After a couple minutes of waiting, Eduardo came out.
"Pee-yoo, man," Grease said, clamping his nose shut with his fingers. "Now you smell like shit."
"Shit or not, he's done, and it's out," Eduardo said. Chuckie followed him out, still adjusting his belt and tucking in his black Ozzy Osbourne t-shirt, which had big dark spots under his armpits.
The bathroom still stunk, but we all had to look. After all, it was ours.
The log was green and brown and really thick, almost the girth of a Coke can. And it looked really hard, not the usual smoothness of regular shit. It had cracks and dimples and had a shiny surface, like it was glazed. A few droplets of blood were dissolving into the water, wavering like cigarette smoke in still air.
"Where the fuck is it?" Grease asked.
A bamboo chopstick in hand, Eduardo slowly spun the log around. And when we saw the other side, it was there, a bright red ruby ring stuck smack in the middle.
We all left the bathroom and went into the kitchen. I was starving for some strange reason, and we still had some roast chicken left over from the night before.
"So who's gonna take it out?" I said, picking at the chicken.
"Ain't me," Grease said. "I say whoever shat the fucking thing go get it."
Chuckie waved him off. "You want it, you get it yourself. I've done my tour of duty today." Feeling his butt, he added, "Maybe forever."
So we were arguing, horsing around, having some fun now because the worst was over. We got away from customs and we made it back here and Chuckie had shat and we didn't even see Tony leaving the kitchen and going into the bathroom, no, none of us saw it.
"You hear that?" Eduardo said.
"No," I said, unable to break free from his surprised gray eyes. It was the sound of someone taking a leak.
"Oh my fucking God," Grease and Two-Tone said at the same time, and we all ran to the bathroom.
Tony was there flicking his dick and pulling down the flush at the same time. There was only one chance, and Eduardo dropped to the floor and shoved his hand into the toilet as the water swirled and swirled into the tunnel.
We all held our breath. Tony held onto his penis, wondering what all the problem was. Then he realized suddenly and left his dick hanging out of his fly. "Oh shit, oh shit," he said jumping up and down, looking like some kid needing to go to the bathroom. "I'm so fucking stupid," he said.
All eyes were on Eduardo and his right hand shoved deep into the toilet. "Got something," he said, and pulled his hand out of the water. His hand had a part of the log, only about half of it.
It was breathless. Nobody said anything, we just opened our eyes and hoped. Eduardo slowly opened his hand -- he had crushed some of the shit, but it was still together.
But nothing. He was holding the end without the ruby.
I laughed. What else could I do? I laughed and laughed until somebody shoved a hand full of shit into my face. Then everybody else started laughing, so I laughed again, knowing little else to do. What can you do but laugh at something like that?
It's that feeling at the pit of your stomach, that empty and hollow churning -- butterflies, some people call it. You've done something wrong, and this man -- this police man with his red and white lights and his flashlight -- is going to get you.
I'm talking about a speeding ticket here. Since almost everyone has been stopped by a cop once or another, that's a good place to start.
They make you feel like a kid, even if you're past retirement and the cop is just out of high school. I've seen the breakdown, the sweat forming on the brows while the cop adjusts his cap a little bit, like he's annoyed at everything that you do.
So it's that feeling, but multiplied one thousand, ten thousand, a million times. You don't understand the rush, the high. You can only get it when you have a pound of hash stuffed under your seat and the cop is checking out your license, staring at your ugly mug. You can barely keep from laughing because you're free. Until you break yourself away from the law and government and all that stuff, you'll be trapped forever in a mindless maze. Whenever we go on road trips, we stop at a 7-11 and hold one up. Just one, because once you hold up two, you're giving them a line. And lines have a way of pointing.
These guys say they don't have the combination to the safe, who cares? That's what Tony's there for. We just make sure they don't press any buttons or anything like that. We tape them up good with duct tape, which every 7-11 has, and I stick one of the workers in the toilet feet first, threatening to zap him while Grease fucks around with his 12-gauge.
And the whole time we're doing this, I'm thinking I'm free. I'm free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, whoever I want.
Just last week I had the stash under my car when the cop pulled me over and the whole time I'm trying really hard not to laugh. Because if I laugh (I have a crazy sounding laugh, "like someone rubbing two balloons together and playing the harmonica at the same time," Grease once told me), it's all over.
So that's what I'm thinking when the cop is looking over my license, that if I slip, I'm finished. It's like thinking about my stinky grandmother when I'm having sex, only a little different. In both cases, it keeps me from laughing, which is the important thing.
I think all five of us have done time at one point or another. It happens -- it only takes one fuckup to get caught. Then you're in prison and there isn't a whole lot you can do about it. You just start counting the days.
I was in for armed robbery and kidnapping, for holding up one of those fancy clothing stores downtown. They were having their annual One Day Sale and a friend had told me they cleared more than a hundred grand on that day. Of course, security would have been beefed up -- so going up to the counter and yelling for money would have been suicide. So I came up with a very smart plan (I thought it was smart, anyway).
I went into the store dressed in my best cloths and took a pair of pants into the dressing room. Inside one of the cubicles, I took out both my guns, sat down on the bench, and waited. Eventually they would come, because they always did. And sure enough, after a half-hour wait, they arrived.
"After Daddy tries this on, you tell me what you think, okay?" a voice said from the cubicle next to me, a pleasant news anchorman's voice.
"Yes, Daddy," a little girl said from outside the cubicle.
"Just wait out there, Maggie, I'll be right out," he said, unzipping his pants. It was time to make my move. I walked out. The girl had beautiful red curls, the dripping kind, like Slinkys. She looked at me and smiled but didn't say anything. Little kids and I usually get along, I think mostly because I'm not much taller than they are.
I walked behind her and put my hand over her mouth, her head shoved tight against my chest. Her eyes were about to pop out of their sockets when I showed her my gun. I thought she would bite my hand, but instead she became completely calm, as if she were glad to see the gun. It's amazing what television has done to these kids.
I dragged the kid back into my dressing cubicle and closed the door, at which point my neighbor finished putting his new pair of pants on.
"Maggie?" he said uncertainly.
"Over here," I said. And I heard the tightening up of every muscle in his body. "Don't even think about it," I said. "Unless you want your little darling to look like Swiss cheese." I love saying that kind of stuff.
"Oh Lord," he said.
I opened the door and let him in. It was a big dressing area, enough to fit two adults and a kid comfortably. I had my gun on Maggie's head, who didn't seem a bit nervous.
"I'm not going to kill your kid," I said.
"Thank God," he said.
"If you do what I want you to do."
"Oh Lord," he said. He was fat and bald and looked early thirty-ish.
"You're a deeply religious man, aren't you?"
"No," he said. "No. Only in emergencies."
I tried hard not to laugh. "Here's what I want you to do," I said, handing him my second pistol. You can always tell when someone is holding a gun for the very first time. They have an awed look about them, as if they were holding something sacred. "I want you to go outside, go up to the counter, and have all the cash taken out of all the drawers and anything else valuable they have stashed in there." I paused. "Announce yourself as 'Squeaky Norman' from the 'Zippadee-Dooda Money Laundry Service.'" At this point I took the gun off of Maggie.
"Zippadee-Dooda, I got it," he said, and pointed his gun at me, quick as a tiger. "Let go of my daughter."
I put my gun back into my belt. "It's not loaded, Norman," I said. Eyes closed, he pulled the trigger -- without hesitation -- and it went click. "Great," I said. "Now I know for sure you can do the job. If you can kill someone as sweet as me, you can certainly rob a store, can't you?" I told him to meet me at the corner of 6th and Brown, in front of the deli, when he was through with his job.
I pushed him out the cubicle and waited with Maggie, who wasn't saying a word. So I listened to the goings on outside. "I'm Squeaky Norma, from the Zippadee-Dooda Money Cleaning Service," he was yelling. Close enough, so he got a couple of words wrong. After all, he was under a lot of pressure. I giggled.
"Hey mister," Maggie said, pointing a gun at my butt. I went for my own, but it was gone. She had somehow taken it out -- but how? To this day, I still don't know what happened.
I was going to say something like "You don't know what you're doing," but she didn't even wait for that. She held the gun with both hands, shot it, shot off my left buttcheek, and the gun went flying from the recoil.
I fell down and she ran right past me, not even giving me a passing glance, and while I was wondering whether there was too much violence on TV, the ambulance people and the police officers landed next to me one by one like vultures. They played musical chairs on the bench until a pair of men in white suits carted me away.
So I was serving my five year sentence in Greenwood and that's where I got to know Eduardo. Although we had both arrived around the same time and were serving out similar sentences (his was also for armed robbery, but with first degree manslaughter instead of kidnap), we didn't actually get to know each other until the last year of our stay. Greenwood was a big place, holding as many as four thousand people. It was divided into two sections, North and West, and each of those sections were subdivided into four more sections, A, B, C, and D. I lived in North C, and Eduardo lived in West D, so that's why we never saw each other.
But because of some mix-up, both Eduardo and I ended up in the same softball team that last year, me at second and Eduardo at short. We got to know each other pretty well on and off the field. He seemed like a straight arrow to me, someone who you'd never expect to be involved with my kind of business. But once you got to know him, you knew that there was no other kind of life for Eduardo. Like me, he had to be free. Law and order were things to be ignored, not followed.
Although everyone talked about their future plans, it was a serious subject between someone like me and Eduardo since our time was up in a couple of months. Believe it or not, you get used to prison life. After a couple of months, you get into a groove. People can get used to just about anything.
"I'm going straight," Eduardo said when I asked him what he was going to do. "My brother works in construction, and he can probably get me a job."
"Oh," I said. That was a polite way for him to say that he didn't want me to be a part of his business.
"What are your plans?" he asked me.
"Not sure," I said. "Not straight, that's for sure."
He nodded and smiled. "We better take the field."
The game went smoothly until the sixth inning, when the catcher from the West team ran over Eduardo in order to prevent a double play. It wasn't a slide -- it was a football tackle that knocked Eduardo flat on his back.
A fight broke in almost every single game we played, so this was no big deal. Eduardo got up and kicked the catcher in the stomach. From his stance, it was obvious Eduardo had done some Thai boxing, fists held up next to his head, ready for anything. Every time the catcher came close to him, Eduardo kicked him somewhere and kept him away. After his fifth attempt, the catcher whipped out a knife from his ankle and slashed Eduardo's leg.
It didn't take long for Eduardo, even with one of his legs injured, to take the knife away from the catcher. Eduardo had him down and was about to stick the knife somewhere when I kicked it out of his hand.
He came after me, but I kicked him in the injured leg, which immediately knocked him down to the ground. Then the guards came, and it was over.
Eduardo and I didn't talk for the rest of the time at Greenwood, not until the last day anyway. I was afraid he was angry at me, and with so little time left, avoiding him wasn't a very big deal. Softball was over, red and brown leaves were blowing in from somewhere outside, and freedom was a few days away.
I was in the rec room, watching a rerun of Barnaby Jones. I was surprised to find myself feeling nostalgic -- this was the last time I was going to be in this room, the last time I was going to have to move the chair under the television, step up, and pull on the on-off knob. I was lost deep in my thoughts when Eduardo sat down next to me. It took me a few minutes before I realized he was there. He didn't say anything to me, so I didn't say anything back. Barnaby, a gun ready in his hand, was running after a man in a rabbit suit.
"I've been thinking," Eduardo said.
I didn't say anything.
"I'm not going into construction," he said. And that's all he really had to say. I still didn't say anything. Barnaby had caught up to the man in the rabbit suit. "Put your hands up," he said, and the rabbit-man, complete with painted whiskers and a bright red nose, slowly raised his hands in the air.
"For a retard, he got us pretty good," Eduardo said. I looked at Chuckie in confusion. "I just got off the phone with Merlo. Tony sold the ruby to Montrose."
"Sold it?" Two-Tone asked, rocking his huge head side to side. It was a habit of his whenever he didn't understand something. Two-Tone and Grease were playing ping-pong. I had winners.
"It couldn't have been all an act, though," I said, looking at Eduardo. I could tell what he was thinking. "Working for somebody else."
"Bingo." Eduardo watched the little white ball go to and fro. "He didn't sell it to just anybody, he sold it to Montrose."
"That ties him with our good friend Columbus," Chuckie said.
"Columbus," Eduardo said.
"Shit!" Two-Tone blew an easy shot.
"What are we gonna do about it?" Chuckie asked.
"Slice slice slice the motherfucker," Grease said, slamming the tiny ball down the line.
"Shit," Two-Tone said, tossing me the paddle. "Your turn." Grease was on a hot streak, and I was worse at this game than Two-Tone.
Eduardo walked over to the balcony, lost in his thoughts. Chuckie and Two-Tone were watching Mighty Mouse on TV. And Grease was already trouncing me with his spin serves.
Eduardo walked back in from the balcony and picked up the phone. Pushing a couple of buttons, he went back out to the balcony. It was a brief call, but a few seconds later, the phone rang, and he answered it.
"I do believe some rather unappealing events will soon take flight," Grease said in a completely believable British accent.
I nodded, thinking the same thing.
"Get your stuff," Eduardo said to all of us. "We're taking a little trip." We all looked at him, wondering where we were going. "About a three-and-a-half hour drive up north. We'll take the van."
"You found Tony," Chuckie said.
"At a motel in Upper Wayne," Eduardo said. "Come on, let's get this over with."
In the beginning, it was me, Eduardo, and Chuckie. Chuckie was a serious bookie, and for the first couple of months we lived with him and his girlfriend in a little shack overlooking the ocean. Eduardo knew Chuckie from his hometown. According to legend, they've been bad ever since the second grade, when they stole cigarettes from the teacher's lounge.
The first thing we did when we got out of Greenwood was household robbery. We scouted the upper middle class neighborhoods and got them one by one. After the fifth one or so, each town would set up a neighborhood watch -- which was a signal for us to move onto the next town. "Then after a couple of months, we can go back for a couple more jobs or so," Eduardo said. He compared it to crop rotation -- by not overdoing any of the towns and going back to them after a short wait, we could keep the jobs continuously flowing.
Eduardo was a natural-born leader, one of those types that people helplessly turn to for whatever reason. He was like a wise old man, a father, and a mother -- everything. He was also a visionary, but not a talker. He was a doer. What he wanted he got, but he never got it alone. He needed us like we need him.
Grease was the next to arrive, the blackest man I'd ever seen. At night all you could see were his eyes, and maybe his teeth if he were smiling, which wasn't often. He was from West Virginia, and before we picked him up he owed some serious money. Eduardo lent him thirty grand out of his own pocket, which still has Chuckie and me wondering just what was going through his mind. I mean he made the right call and all -- Grease turned out to be an essential part of our business -- but at the time, the move seemed completely unlike Eduardo.
Grease's real name was Clement something -- something really hard to say. Chuckie told me how he got his nickname. Just after turning sixteen, Grease got a job at a diner as a dishwasher. Somebody pissed him off (something to do with his sister, who was murdered when she was just ten), and this is what Grease does: he goes to the thing that fries chicken parts, the hot thing with boiling oil, and he pours it over the guy, head to toe, covers this guy with grease. "Grease! Grease! Grease!" the guy yelled, falling to the floor and tossing and jerking in pain. Then to top it off, Grease takes a match and lights the guy on fire.
Two-Tone was a much easier going guy. He wasn't much for taking care of serious business, but then again, neither was I. Only Eduardo and Grease have killed people. Two-Tone was his real name, the name that was on his birth certificate (he has a copy of it shrunk down to wallet size so he could show it to people). "Dad had a two-tone Chevy Camaro, and that's where I shot out," he told me. "And by the time I was getting hair on my balls, this started to happen," he said, pointing at a part of his head where the hair wasn't as dark as the rest. It was completely natural, a part of his hair turning silvery-white. So the name Two-Tone made more sense than ever. He'd dyed it regularly since he was identified by a witness as a "guy with skunky hair."
Two-Tone was a big guy, and fast, too. When he became a part of our business, we got real serious, going after larger houses in better neighborhoods. Chateaus and mansions, and when Tony came along we got big.
Tony. We knew very little about him. Maybe he wasn't as stupid as we had thought. He didn't seem like a bad guy. Chuckie had known him a long while back, so we thought if Chuckie knew him he was okay.
But now we were going to have to take care of him.
We didn't talk very much on the road. I-75 is a calm drive, rows of evergreens standing tall and straight, so thick that you can't see anything but brown and green. Every so often there's a sign for adopting a part of the highway for clean-up, so we talked about doing something like that, but we soon fell back to silence.
I think Grease likes the act of killing, but even he doesn't like the silence that comes before death. It's like we're having a pre-funeral. None of us hate Tony, but what he did was unforgivable. We all risked our lives for that ring.
We got to Upper Wayne by sunset. Our motel is right off the highway, Upper Wayne Motel, not terribly creative. The only neon light that works on the sign is the word "Upper," flickering on and off randomly, as if it can't make up its mind.
We asked the motel guy about Tony, and he shook his head. Grease showed him his gun. He gave us a key and told us to go to B8, which was on the second floor, the fourth room on the right.
We used the key and open the door. Tony was in bed, watching TV while munching on some chips and drinking Budweiser. He looked at us and that's all he has to do, that look. Guilt, sadness, self-pity -- and at the end of it all, fear. It all came through so clearly that he didn't have to say a single word.
Eduardo and Grease both pointed their guns, and they each fired two bullets, two to the head and two to the heart.
Sung J. Woo (email@example.com) is a longtime InterText contributor and was the editor of the online Zine Whirlwind.
InterText stories written by Sung J. Woo: "Bleeding Hearts" (v4n1), "Nothing, Not a Thing" (v5n2), "Business" (v6n2).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Sung J. Woo.