This story is gritty, and horrible, but it’s how it really happened.
“Don’t you wish this night would last forever?” Tommy said, and I didn’t argue that it’s actually early morning, and not exactly the best time I’ve ever had, considering every moment’s been spent with him. Still, I grunted something that sounded like agreement, seeing as he was kind enough to drive us, me being too drunk. He probably was too, but he was more sober, with less priors, so I gave him my keys. That was a mistake; Tommy’s that guy who says “What’s the worst that could happen?” and then proceeds to demonstrate.
That’s pretty much what happened after we left Tino’s. Leaving had been strongly suggested by Tino himself. We’d been gorging ourselves on taquitos and huevos rancheros, me drinking tequila, and Tommy a pitcher of beer. That’s one of the reasons why I reckoned he was more sober, though his behavior had been the poorer. He’d been pawing the hostesses buzzing around us in short skirts and Jose Cuervo holsters, like we were at some gentleman’s club, and we’re definitely not gentlemen. We’re Tino’s boys, and everyone knows it. That’s why the girls tolerate our misbehavior, the girls here as well as the ones at home. Anyways, every time Tommy hot-handed one of the girls, I got a shot from them and tipped them, just to keep things friendly. Now I was seeing things that I wasn’t sure were even there. It made no sense disobeying Tino, so we headed out, Tommy guiding me.
We were Tino’s boys, had been from the day that he gave us work when nobody else had any. He called it wetwork. It was dirty work, but it paid well, once we got understood the job requirements. “I give you a job, you do it,” he’d explained, and that was reasonable enough. So, we never turned down a job, and we never left unfinished business. That business paid for meals, and liquor, and women, and still left a nice sum to go into our kids’ future college funds. Tommy and I were right for the job. No morals, no conscience, no questions asked. We weren’t good husbands or fathers, or humans, but we were good killers. We made messes, and we cleaned up messes.
Tino had mentioned our children, when he suggested we leave his restaurant. “Boys,” he’d said, clapping a meaty mitt on each of our shoulders, equal parts friendly and firm. “Head home. Go play with your kids. That’s what I’m going to do.” Tommy didn’t like hearing that, any more than he liked the hand on his shoulder. “The kids are sleeping,” he mumbled in protest, after Tino was out of earshot. “His too,” he said at Tino’s back. “Finish your beer, Tommy,” I said, “And let’s go.” If Tino wanted to play with his kid when he got home, then that’s what he’d do. People didn’t disobey Tino, not his employees, not his eight-year-old. My kids would holler if I was to wake them when I got home, and then the woman would double the volume. Tommy’s kid hid from him. I never asked why. The relevant point here was, Tino was telling us to leave, and we did what Tino said. Always.
I was seeing colorful psychedelic visions, with my eyes open and with them closed. We stopped off at the Seven Eleven, not for gas, but for Slurpees. I was hoping they’d have something in lemon-lime, might settle my stomach. But Tommy insisted I try his invention, which isn’t really an invention, and isn’t really his. He mixes cherry and cola, and acts like it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted, except for maybe a twelve pack of ice cold Coor’s. He had his flask out, so I reckoned he was going to add some whiskey to the mix. He grabbed cups, the giant size, and the nozzle sprayed cherry syrup everywhere. The red light was blinking like it does when you shouldn’t use that flavor; guess he saw that too late. So, he left the cups, and the mess. It wasn’t the kind we clean up. On the way out, Tommy gave the kid at the counter an unnecessary glare; we weren’t going to pay for anything anyways. Tino’s boys don’t pay. Tommy got back in the driver’s seat, and took a big swig of whiskey. I thought about offering to give driving a shot, but now I had cherry Slurpee all over my glasses, so I let it go.
Tommy was buzzed enough to get ornery like he does, so he tromped on the gas and slung my Pontiac around curves at double the suggested speed. I was starting to think that my refusal to drive wasn’t such a hot idea, on account of I was probably going to throw up if he kept up. “Slow down,” I said, “What’s the hurry? Didn’t you say let’s make the night last?” It worked, he eased up, and the contents of my stomach felt like they mostly evened out. “You know where the both of us ought to be heading home to?” he asked, and I knew he was going to veer off the highway and cut through that neighborhood, like the ornery Tommy likes to do. We were within a few miles of our own homes, and I recall hearing that’s when most accidents happen. “Come on, Tommy,” I wasted my breath, “Just get us home, okay?” “Oh, we’ll be there soon enough,” he said, “This is practically a shortcut.” He could see I didn’t like that, so he sweetened the deal. “I’ll take you to breakfast tomorrow,” he promised. “Somewhere nice,” meaning IHOP. I quit protesting, and he wound through the spacious suburban neighborhood of Oak Manor.
Then he started with his rhetoric, as expected. “Lookit,” Tommy said, “Just lookit these places,” while we motored down smooth asphalt streets, iron-gated estates on each side. Cute lanterns every few feet lit the place up like Christmas. My smeared lenses gave everything a weird red glow. It was the closest I’d ever come to looking through stained glass. “Dammit, Tommy,” I said, as he accelerated obstinately as we passed the “Speed Limit: 5 MPH” sign. Tommy snorted at me. “You worried about your precious car?” Then he stomped on the gas and made the tires squeal. He fishtailed off the road, nearly sideswiping some obnoxiously ornate Atlantis-style mermaid statue. Or maybe it could have been Medusa. Or the wife. She looked angry.
I swore, and Tommy got the car back in control without even touching the brake. “Tommy. Slow. Down.” I poked him with each word. It got his attention. With my Slurpee-covered lenses and the rage he flew into, he looked like the devil himself. When he finished calling me every horrible name he could think of, he said, “Maybe you want to drive.” Then the fool took his hands off the wheel, while we were still going fifty or so miles an hour. “Go ahead, DUI, you take the wheel.” And I did, but not soon enough.
It looked like a rabbit, or a soccer ball, or who knows, could have been that cartoon roadrunner, whatever jumped out right in front of us. It was red, though, pretty sure, and moving fast. If it was real. Then I heard a thump on the right front bumper, confirming its existence. Tommy stomped the brake pedal, spun the car one hundred eighty degrees, and stopped right in the middle of the street. I waited for lights to turn on in all the windows, but Oak Manor was in the middle of a deep sleep. Tommy looked at me, face wedding-dress white, and laughed nervously. “Some rich dude is gonna need to buy a new Labra-poodle,” he quipped. I swallowed hard. “You better hope that was it,” I said, meaning, hope it was just some rich dude, and that it was a dog. “You KNOW where we’re at.” He swallowed hard, like he hadn’t considered other possibilities.
I wouldn’t have said a word if we would’ve just driven away, I have enough nightmares as it is. Tommy just had to see, though, even if it was just so he could throw some mutilated animal corpse in the trunk of my car. He puffed out his chest in a poor imitation of bravery and opened his door to investigate. I said nothing, just stared straight ahead, used my shirt to wipe off my glasses. I heard him take a couple steps, whistling half-heartedly. Then he stopped. Time stopped and my heart did too.
I listened hard, hoping like anything I’d hear a goofy laugh, or a wisecrack. Instead, I heard an anguished combination of moan and scream. Hurried steps back to the car. Tommy’s face had taken on a paler shade of white as he stuck his head back through his opened door. “Gun in the glovebox?” he asked. I nodded. “I need it. Give it here.” I didn’t ask, didn’t want to know, just handed it to him. I shut my eyes, my glasses in my lap. I wasn’t going to watch. He was going to put some poor creature out of its misery, and we were going home. I was half right.
I heard Tommy say, “I’m sorry,” and I couldn’t help it, I put my glasses on and looked over. Just in time to see him tuck the gun under his chin and pull the trigger. Then I was out the door, heaving in the grass. About that time, lights did start coming on, from the house we were in front of. I hurried around the car on rubber legs. I looked past Tommy’s body, knew he was dead. Beyond him in the road lay a small broken body.
I dropped to my knees. Jammed my fist in my mouth, bit my knuckle, hoping I’d wake up from this horrible dream. I didn’t. I knew what Tommy had known. Our lives were over, had been the moment he took his hands off the wheel, maybe the moment I gave him the keys to begin with. We’d gone and made a mess, and this time, we couldn’t clean it up. The only thing left for me was death, either quickly by my own hand the same as Tommy, or slowly and painfully. Tino would have no mercy. He knew how to punish, how to torture, and there’d be nothing, nothing at all in this world that would stop him. I wasn’t strong enough and I knew it. I’d follow suit and take the cowardly way out.
I tried not to look at Tommy’s blood, Tommy’s corpse. The gun was still clenched in his mitt. I reached for it, and a large black leather shoe stepped on it, and my fingers. At the same time, I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder, only this time, not a trace of friendliness.
That’s when I knew, this night really was going to last forever.