published in Volume 3, Issue 2 on February 29th, 1996
Come on, Richie, it's not right," I said. "Don't talk shit like that."
Richie was grunting on the floor. He'd done maybe fifty push-ups already. I watched his biceps bulge and the sweat drip off his face. When he was like that he exercised for days on end, pumping himself up. That's when I knew he was dangerous.
"Richie, answer me, for Chrissake," I went on. "At least tell me you're listening."
"I'm listening," Richie said. "What's your problem?"
"My problem is the shit you were talking ten minutes ago, okay. You were talking about killing people."
Richie stopped doing push-ups and sat up. Then he hooked the tips of his sneakers under the steel bed frame, bent his knees double and folded his arms behind his head. He took a deep breath and began doing sit-ups.
"Forget what I said before," he grunted, doing his sit-ups. "I was bullshitting you."
I studied Richie for a minute. I knew he wasn't bullshitting me. He was saying that because he didn't respect me. Me and Richie go back a long ways, to the old neighborhood. He thought I was weak then, and he still thinks so now.
"Don't lie to me, Richie," I said. "You were serious. I saw the look in your eyes."
Richie stopped doing sit-ups and slid sideways. He leaned against the bed and wiped his sweaty face with his tee-shirt.
"Go fuck yourself," he said.
"Take it easy, man, okay? Just chill. I'm not your enemy. I'm your friend."
"Some friend. A fuckin' drunk and a pussy on top of it."
"Hey, watch your mouth, asshole," I told him.
"Or what? Richie said as he got up. I didn't even see his hands move. I only felt the slap and the next thing I knew Richie had me by the throat and was shoving me up against the wall. "Or what, you fuckin' pussy. What you gonna do about it?"
"Richie, ease up, man," I pleaded.
He stared at me with a blank expression, and despite the way he was acting, I felt sorry for him. The Richie I once knew had eyes that could make you smile just looking into them.
The Richie I knew had saved my life at least twice when we were younger, before things began to change inside him, before the bad stuff began to happen. It wasn't the war either. He was like that before he enlisted. The war just deepened it, made it worse. But I still owed Richie a lot and I would never forget how he had been once upon a time. No, there was no way I could be mad at him.
"Lemme go, Richie," I said. "I love you, man. You don't wanna hurt me."
Richie nodded slowly and eased the pressure and stepped back.
"I'm sorry I did that," he said. "I didn't mean to hit you, okay. That wasn't right."
"No problem," I said and slapped him on his shoulder. "It's okay. Look, why don't we go out for Chinese. I'm buying."
Richie shook his head stolidly.
"Not tonight," he said. "I told you what I was doing tonight."
"Yeah, but first you were talking about blowing people away."
"I told you I was bullshitting you," he answered. "I just wanna take a drive. Don't ask me again about that other bullshit, man."
I knew Richie too well than to believe he wasn't serious about what he'd told me when I came in. But the way I saw it, I had one of three options. One, I just left and let Richie take his drive and let the chips fall where they might. Two, I called the cops or the veterans hospital. Three, I went with him and talked him out of whatever bad shit he was planning.
"You sure you don't want Chinese, Richie?" I asked. "There's that new Schezuan place over near the park I told you about. They make a great lemon chicken."
"Not tonight, man," he said. "Tonight I'm taking a drive. You wanna come along, you're welcome. Otherwise when I come out of the shower, don't fuckin' be here."
I had a drink as I sat in the apartment and thought things over, watching a flock of crows spill out of the cemetery two streets away and boil over the rooftop. Sometimes hundreds came that way and the sky got black with them. Best if I just split but I couldn't do that, though. As sick as Richie was, I owed it to him to tag along. I had another drink and it made me feel better.
"I see you're still here," he said when he came out of the shower naked, flaunting his muscles at me. I wished I had muscles like that. I worked out sometimes, but I could never get them. He probably knew that, and showed off his body just to piss me off. "Guess that means you're along tonight."
"I'm along," I said.
I watched Richie get dressed and take a black gym bag out of the closet. He got out his keys and went out the door.
"What's in the bag?" I asked, following.
"Nothing," he said. "Don't ask me again."
We got into Richie's car. He fired up the engine and we sat there a minute letting it warm up in the cold. While we waited, Richie turned to me and told me to give him my bottle.
"Because I don't need you all juiced up when we hit the highway," he said. "I don't want you carsick and puking all over me."
"I don't get carsick," I said.
"Just gimme the bottle."
"Lemme take one more drink first, okay?" Richie nodded and I knocked one back, glad I'd had a couple while he was in the shower. Richie stashed the bottle under the driver's seat and put the car into drive. We pulled away from the curb and I put on the radio. "Born to be Wild," came on. Richie told me to turn it up; he liked that song.
We took the on-ramp to the parkway and Richie took out a fat joint. He lit the joint and toked up, then handed it to me.
"You can smoke all of this you want," he said. "But no booze till later."
I took a couple of hits of the jay and felt it mellow me out. I could take or leave pot but not whiskey. I was an alcoholic and I accepted it. If I could have my booze I was okay. I scraped enough money together from scrounging and begging on the subway to afford my crib and my booze. It wasn't as bad as heroin, and I never hurt anybody. I wasn't such a bad guy.
"This is Thai sticks, right?"
"Yeah," Richie said, taking the joint and smoking the rest without offering me any.
An hour later, we were way out on the thruway heading north. Richie said we'd stop at the mall a couple of miles ahead to gas up. We could have something to eat if I wanted too. I told Richie that was a good idea. Sure, let's stop.
I said that less because I was hungry and wanted to take a leak than because I wanted to delay his arrival at wherever it was he was heading to give myself a shot at stopping him.
Richie hadn't said a word about where he was going, and I knew better than to ask him. If I asked him about it, I was afraid that he'd just boot my ass out of the car and go on himself, in which case I would have come along for nothing and have to hitch a ride back. I knew one thing. At the end of the line, somebody was going to die. Or at least that Richie intended for somebody to die.
The booze and the Thai sticks helped the knowledge from becoming fear. It was just knowledge now, maybe a little more than knowledge. It was knowledge tinged with fear, but it was more knowledge than fear and wouldn't become fear until I let go of what was containing it. So far I was managing to keep it together. So far I was in control. No matter what, I had to keep that control.
Richie gassed the car up at the self-serve and we went into the mall. There was a Chinese place there but Richie still didn't want Chinese and we both ended up having a burger and cold bottled beer. While we ate Richie kept the gym bag right next to him at all times. My eyes kept going to it because I knew what was inside.
Richie had all kinds of weapons. He was a gunsmith and knew all about how to make silencers out of hunks of pipe and rubber sink washers. I'd once seen Richie take apart and reassemble a Heckler and Koch MP5 submachinegun in less than five minutes, and do it blindfolded. Richie was good with guns. In fact, he loved guns. The gym back started to make the fear come on strong, and I stopped looking at it. But now I couldn't hold it back so good anymore. With the first shiver I knew I was gonna lose it fast.
"Lemme have another drink, Richie," I said.
"No fuckin' way," he returned. "Drink the beer."
"Beer's no good. I gotta have the bottle."
"The bottle's in the car," he said, looking me over and I could see he was saying to himself that I was starting to lose it and he might as well give me a drink. He got up and I followed him out to the car park and I had my drink as we got rolling again.
Nothing much was said after that. We'd settled into a routine. Now that we'd stopped at the mall, I knew there was nothing gonna stop us from reaching Richie's destination. Why ask him where it was, I thought. I'd find out soon enough. I was along for the ride, along till the bitter end.
We were pretty far upstate now, and Richie took a turnoff onto a secondary road that took us past a bunch of dairy farms and one small town. The roads were confusing, and at a couple of points I was bewildered because one minute we were in New York State, then next in Pennsylvania, and again in New Jersey. I asked Richie about it.
"This here's the tri-state border," he explained. "We're up near the Delaware River. Gonna see it pretty soon on the left."
"You been up here before?" I asked.
"Couple of times."
"You never told me."
"So what?" he said.
I didn't answer him but pretty soon the woods on the left fell away and I was looking down a precipice onto the Delaware River under the light of a full moon. It was around one in the morning by then and the moonlight fell on the black water and shone on the small islands the river flowed around and softly lit the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful sight to see, I thought, but Richie didn't seem to notice. He stared straight ahead, lost in his own world.
We took another back road and the river was gone. On either side were wooded hills, dark and brooding. They filled me with a weird foreboding feeling, like I was looking at hell and my soul would go there, into the darkness beyond the trees and be lost forever. I wanted to have another drink then, but I didn't say anything because I knew Richie wouldn't give me one.
But after another twenty minutes or so Richie pulled into a dirt access road cut into the woods. The car bumped along the road and he stopped it and an icy spike of fear and adrenaline shot right through me. By now the knowledge was gone and only the fear remained.
This time Richie was the one who brought out the bottle.
"Take a drink," he said.
I unscrewed the cap and tipped back the bottle, watching Richie reach over the top of the seat for the bag on the floor. He took out a black weapon with a long black silencer attachment. The weapon had no clip but Richie took two clips out of the bag. He shoved a clip into the gun and pulled back the thing on the top that charged it. After that he did the same thing to a semiautomatic pistol that he shoved in his belt.
"That an Uzi you got?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," said Richie.
I tried to stay as calm as possible. "Listen, Richie. We can't do this, okay. It's not gonna work. Let's go back, man. Let's go back and just fuckin' forget the whole thing, let's -- oh shit, Richie please Richie what the fuck you doing man, what the fuck you getting both of us into Richie man you gonna fuck us up with that shit you gonna put us both in a fuckin hole you gonna -- "
I got slapped, and then slapped again, and I could taste blood in my mouth where his hand had hit me in the chops.
"Shut up! Shut ... the fuck ... up!" he growled at me and the only thing I could do was sit there crying and bleeding and now with the fear so big inside me the booze wasn't doing a fucking thing to stop it. He got out of the car and walked up the road and though I was crying my eyes out, I got out my side and went right after him.
Up the hill apiece the road ended, but the woods thinned out, and as we went over the crest, I could see our destination up ahead. It was one of those chalet style houses with a projecting porch, part of which I could just glimpse from the angle, because we were coming at the house from the rear, across the back acreage. A four-by was parked out back and the heat distortion in the cold air from the chimney told me there were almost definitely people inside.
Before we went into the clearing beyond the trees, Richie grabbed me by the collar and shoved the Uzi in my face.
"I hear one peep out of you, you fuckin' die. You got that, asshole?"
I nodded. "Okay, okay, Richie."
He let go of me and turned his back on me. A little voice inside said now was the time to move on him. Jump him. Knock him down and get those guns away from him somehow. I was just as big as Richie and maybe could have done it if I tried. But I guess he knew I was a chickenshit and didn't have the guts to do anything. I guess he knew I would just follow him across the moonlit clearing toward the house and not do shit and let whatever happened happen.
We went quietly up the wooden stairs and Richie got the door open without making a sound using a set of burglar tools. I figure he knew somehow the place wasn't alarmed, because there was no doubt in my mind he'd set it up for a long time and he'd staked out the house with one time going inside and killing the people who owned the house in his mind.
Now we were inside the house and I figured I was right because Richie wasn't looking around, he knew exactly where he was gonna go. There was a flight of stairs to the right as you came in that went past the ground floor kitchen area. Richie took the stairs and we were up on the second floor where the bedrooms were. There were two bedrooms, one on either side of the hall, and Richie went into the first one of them with me right behind him.
Two people were asleep in the double bed inside the room, a man and a woman, and both were naked. The man had his arms around the woman and his groin up against her ass and Richie came over and put the silenced end of the Uzi against the man's head and shot the man, making only the sound of the bolt striking the firing pin and the wet splatter sounds of blood from the man's broken skull striking the wall and the body of the sleeping woman and the bedding and the both of us.
The woman gave a jerk as she came awake and let out a scream. Richie pushed her down into the sheets with one hand on her chest. It took all his strength to hold her down with the one hand as he shoved the muzzle of the Uzi into her face and let her holler and thrash for a fast minute and then he pulled the trigger and the bolt went snap snap snap and the woman's head came apart and there was blood all over the place.
Richie let go of the woman and what was left of her sagged into the man. He turned and walked out of the room and went across the hall into the other bedroom. A little boy was standing there with a dumb expression on his face. Richie hit him over the head with the side of the Uzi. Blood came out of the little boy's head and he fell over with a shriek. Richie kicked him in the head and stomped him to death. He didn't even waste a bullet on him.
"Shit, I just came," Richie said and turned around. "Fuckin' came right in my pants."
I looked at his groin and it was stained dark.
"Put your hand on it," Richie said.
"Hey, man," I said. "What the fuck you -- "
Richie grabbed me by the wrist and forced my hand onto the wet place. I squirmed trying to get free, but there was no use. He was too strong. I felt the wetness and the hardness beneath it and I was sick.
"Don't get sick on me, you pussy," Richie said after letting go of me.
"I'm okay," I said, grabbing my guts to stop the retching. "I'm good." The spasm passed and I knew I'd be okay. "What about the blood. We got it all over us."
"I brought along for myself," he said, meaning clothes. "You find some shit to put on." He walked off.
"Where you going?"
"Gonna take a shower."
We were outa there an hour or so later. Our bloody clothes we shoved in a shopping bag and I found jeans and a jacket that fit me that I guess belonged to the guy Richie killed. In the car Richie gave me another drink from the bottle. I took a long one, gulping down as much booze as I could before he snatched it away from me. I was a little better afterward. Not that much, but I could at least function.
I put my head in my hands and muttered into my palms as the car backed onto the highway.
"Shit what we done you killed them Richie oh shit why didn't I stop you why the fuck did I let you fuckin kill them like that man it's unbelievable you just blew those fuckers away like nothing you just fuckin went and blew those fuckers away you -- "
I realized something then and I sat up.
"Who the fuck were they, Richie?" I asked.
He kept his eyes on the road.
"Nobody," he said.
"That wasn't your ex-wife, was it?" The full horror of it suddenly struck me. "That wasn't Paula you just killed?"
"Paula's sister," he said. "And her husband and kid. They come up here on weekends. Used to come up here," he corrected himself.
"Why the fuck for?"
"They fucked with me," he said. "So I fucked with them."
"Paula and you split up a year ago," I said. "Why now?"
"Time does not heal, it festers," was all he said. "I'm stopping for gas soon."
It was after four in the morning as we pulled into the lighted gas stop. The station was brightly lit up but as deserted as a base on the moon. Richie drove up to the pumps and rolled down the window as the gas jockey walked over. He was one of those weedy hick types with straw colored hair falling out from beneath a greasy ball cap.
"Help you," he said, looking both of us over.
"Fill it up with no-lead," Richie said.
The station attendant nodded and went around to the back of the car and I heard the creak and thump as he put in the nozzle. Richie and I both noticed that he was acting skittish, like he was registering our faces and the car. The car was old and most of the vehicles on the highway were new.
Most of the faces that passed by the attendant were different too, not city boy faces like ours. I knew Richie was going to kill the guy too because he'd remember us, but there was nothing I could do about it. By this time Richie would blow me away too. I just sat there while he cracked the door and stepped out and walked around back to where the attendant was standing.
A minute later, he was coming back around the front with the .45 semiauto stuck in the attendant's face.
"You stay in the car," he said.
"Richie, don't do it," I told him. I was getting out, trying to save the guy's life.
"Stay in the fuckin' car!" Richie yelled.
I wasn't going to. Fuck the car and fuck Richie's orders. Who the fuck was he, the general? Let him shoot me. I wasn't sitting still no fucking more.
"Don't do it, man," I said. "You got no beef with the guy."
Richie was dragging and pushing the attendant toward the door of the men's toilet at the side of the station. He shoved open the door and pushed him inside.
"Kneel on the floor," he told the attendant.
"No don't kill me man," he begged. "No don't kill me man I never seen you okay I never seen you just walk away and I never seen you I swear it okay just please don't kill me man."
"Listen to him, man," I said. "Don't kill him."
Richie pushed the guy away and the attendant cowered against one of the stand-up urinals. Richie looked hard at him and dropped his hand with the gun.
"That's good, man," I said. "Let him go. He won't say shit. Right, man?"
"No I won't say shit man okay I said I never seen you and I never seen you."
Richie pushed me ahead of him and I walked toward the door. I held it open and he want halfway through it, then suddenly turned and raised his arm and fired two bullets straight into the guy, splattering blood all over the urinals and the wall. I was screaming, "No!" as Richie went back inside the toilet and put the gun almost right up against the attendant's skull and fired another three rounds into it, shattering the head and making the body jerk each time the bullets struck it and leaving a bloody mess on the floor.
Richie shoved me ahead of him back toward the car and told me to take the nozzle out and hang it back up. He got behind the wheel and drove away, and this time I was beyond saying anything as we hit the road and drove into the rising sun toward New York.
It was the start of the business week when we reached Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge. Rush hour traffic was snarling the Deagan and the West Side Highway and Midtown was a gridlocked mess. Richie drove the car without saying a word, though. He didn't even curse at the cab drivers like he usually did, and I knew he had a final stop to make before he was finished.
We pulled into a parking lot in Midtown and paid the short stay rate and got out of the car with Richie carrying the gym bag. In the garage he handed me the bottle and let me drink as much of it as I wanted to, and I tipped it back and let it pour down my throat while he stood watching my Adam's apple bobbing with disgust in his eyes. He took the bottle away from me and pitched it into the car's back seat.
"Where we going now, Richie?" I asked.
"See my wife," he said.
"You mean Paula?"
"My wife," Richie said.
"We can still walk away from this, man," I said before we went into the building. "Chances are they won't connect us to what happened upstate. We might be able to beat that, but there's no way we can beat this."
"You want to walk away," he said, "do it."
"I'm not walking away," I said. "But I got to tell you what I think and I think we went far enough with this."
"You told me and I heard you," Richie said. "Now either shut up and come with me or get fucking lost."
Richie went ahead into the lobby of the office building and walked through the hall toward the elevators. He got off on the fifth floor and walked to one of the men's rooms, using a key he had on him to open the door.
He went into the stall at the far wall and opened the gym bag on top of the toilet seat. I stood outside the door by the sink and watched him snap a fresh clip into the Uzi. Then he took out a bullpup automatic shotgun, a clipfed weapon made mostly of plastic, which he slung over his shoulder. When he came out he pulled the semiauto from his pants and handed it to me.
"You better take it," he said.
"Ain't you afraid I'll shoot you?" I asked.
"No," was all he said and I took the gun and followed him out of the men's room and down a flight of fire stairs to the floor below. Then we walked down the hall and went over to one of the offices and Richie pushed open the door.
The receptionist behind the desk looked up and froze as she saw Richie level the Uzi at her face but then the face disintegrated and blood splattered the wall behind her. Richie went down a short corridor past some cubbyholes and rounded up a guy and a woman inside each who were on the phone. We pushed them ahead of us toward some open office doors. We grabbed a guy in suspenders and button-down shirt from one and added him to the group. Finally we came to another office at the end.
"Hello, Paula," Richie said.
She picked up the phone right away but Richie hit her in the face and she dropped the handset. He picked Paula up by the hair and shoved her out the door. Then he unslung the bullpup and began shooting the people he'd herded together. Blood spattered the walls and the carpet and one got up and tried to run, but Richie cut him down before he got very far. He threw down the bullpup and put the Uzi against the head of the guy in the suspenders.
"You been fuckin' my wife, you prick," Richie said.
The guy tried to act calm.
"Put down the gun, now," he said. "This won't solve anything."
"It's gonna solve you, asshole," he said. "Watch this, Paula. Watch what happens to this asshole lawyer of yours."
He looked at his ex and pulled the trigger. The silenced Uzi went snap snap snap and the guy's broken teeth exploded out the rear of his skull in a bloody shower.
"You motherfucker!" Paula shrieked. "I hope you burn in hell!" She knew she was next.
"You first, Paula," he said and pointed the Uzi at her and squeezed the trigger and emptied the magazine of nine millimeter ammo into her head and chest.
He snapped a final magazine into the Uzi and tried to charge the weapon but its chamber was fouled. He told me to give him the pistol. "You know what happens next," he said to me as he tossed the Uzi on the carpet.
"Yeah," I said. I had known it all along.
"You want me to do us both?" Richie asked.
"You better," I said, handing him the gun. He opened his mouth and shoved in the barrel, then fired a bullet up through the roof of his mouth and into his brain.