Gary writes “Grit Fiction,” because life isn’t always smooth. His stories are characterized by wit, wordplay, and plot twists that will leave the reader guessing.

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How to Get Away With Nothin’

 

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH NOTHIN’

You think you know my story, but you have no idea. It might have a cast of characters like you’ve seen before, and the plot might seem predictable but I am here to tell you it’s still worth a look for real. I got a lot of run-on sentences in here especially when I’m excited but stick with me unless you got hang-ups about punctuation and propositional phrases and stuff like that. This all took place on St. Patrick’s Day and yes, I know it’s a month later but I’m a procrastinator and this goes to show what a pro I am at it. Also, I have been in in substantial pain and later on you’ll see why but don’t worry I still remember the story except the parts I forgot. So I’m sitting here at the Watertown Free Public Library using their computer since Lil’ Jay Dub (I’ll get to him) won’t let me use his. The reason I’m telling our story is because the guys all tell me I got a way with words.

This is how it went down, okay? It was our One Last Caper, me and the guys. You probably seen a show like it, the one where a group of slightly criminal misfits just needs one final payday so they can live righteous lives from then on. That’s us exactly, time to retire our stocking masks (That’s a joke.) But we’ve pressed our luck long enough, it’s time to give up petty larceny for good. You hold court long enough and someone’s eventually going to take you down. So you follow that worn-out script like I’m talking about, go out with a bang. You’ve seen that scene in the movies, with the crew all walking cool in slow motion and behind them is a huge fireball explosion? That would be us for real, well not for real, more like metaphysically. You do not want any of us anywhere near pyrotechnicals or fireworks, Lil’ Jay Dub could tell you why but that’s another story.

No kidding, our story seriously would make a great movie. My girl Vertie B, she could be the star, she is as fine as any Hollywood celebrity. They’d probably re-cast the rest of us with better-looking folks. We actually talked about it sometimes, called it Breaking Good. I always say Will Smith could play me, and then the guys say You mean Rondell Smith and laugh because he was the poor pudgy kid in the neighborhood that the short bus picked up and took to Sam Adams Elementary. I tell them they shouldn’t make fun of Rondell and they all go No we making fun of YOU and it never gets old with these guys. I hate to give that nonsense more than a single sentence but now we got that out of the way.

For all of our jabs at each other we have a tight team and more often than not we are winners. Truth – the five of us held the basketball court at Bowery Park for the entire Sunday not all that long ago. Winner stays in and that’s what we did, all day. We couldn’t have done it without each of us all contributing which is exactly how every one of our schemes work. We all have our role and we know it. Additionally we have a seven-footer, and at Bowery Park they call that a major advantage. All in all we are pretty tight, and I don’t know who all might be reading this but I think you’d probably like our crew.

Lil’ Jay Dub, he’s our tech wizard. He’s gotten us out of some pretty tight spots, he can always find some angle. Say you need a radio station pirated or a police scanner jammed or a garage door that is not attached to your own house opened – Lil’ Jay Dub is your man. Working with him is not without its challenges. You got to be either almost deaf or extremely tolerant of awful singing or rapping or whatever you want to call the noise the man comes up with. His freestyles aren’t worth free and I tell him that all the time and it doesn’t discourage him one tiny bit. The rest of us argue about whether he sounds like a bad version of Lil’ Jon or a worse version of Lil’ Wayne and I so I said how about Lil’ John Wayne and the name stuck and so now he is Lil’ Jay Dub because J.W. you get it?

Sometimes we fetch trouble that we can’t outrun and can’t finance our way out of. When we got to muscle our way out of a sitch, that’s when we call Big Dummy. Physically, he resembles Rhames. Not Ving Rhames, I mean Rhames, the foundry up on 9th Street by the hoops. Huge and indestructible and made of solid brick, I could be talking about either one but I’m talking about Big Dummy. He’s got a thick neck, thick legs, and a real thick skull. His muscles have muscles and the vein in his bicep is as thick as my leg. I’ve seen the man bench press a Caddy.  That is no exoneration and now you got the picture.  You know how in movies the huge musclebound guy is always a little slow? You seen Green Mile, right? Or that big gray dude in Guardians of the Galaxy? So you’d think that’s what Big Dummy is like but you’d be completely wrong. I call him slow and I get pounded into Skittle-sized pieces if he reads this. If he can read (JK). He’s about as dumb as I am rich, which is to say Not one bit. See, we call him the Big Dummy because he has a degree in linguistics which he tells us is not pasta and also he can sing opera in Italian and his IQ is like the rest of ours all added together and we call that irony.

Course like in the shows we all got these ironic nicknames – like “Mutombo” who is five-foot-two and not seven-foot-two like his NBA nick-namesake. Mutombo is one quick ninja, he gets in and out of places like the Indivisible Man. His twin brother we call Mugsy after the shortest guy to ever play pro basketball. And he’s the seven-foot tall one, and yes the two really are twins, I was there at Mass General when they were born. Mutombo was born June twenty-first and Mugsy on the twenty-second, twenty-third, and twenty-fourth. Twins that are nothing like each other is kind of a twist to the story, then again they did that in Star Wars. The guys call me “Bright” after that Will Smith movie on Netflix and as I write this I am realizing that isn’t the reason at all and I suppose that me being too slow to catch on is what makes it a really great ironic nickname and I think sometime we are definitely going to need to discuss this.

The twins are always competing or arguing or dissing each other and I guess that could just be a twin thing. Eventually the insults aren’t enough or maybe they’re too much but one will put the other in a headlock and that should be the end of it but it is only ever the beginning. Mutombo puts up a good fight against the tall guy, he’s tough and a kinda crazy and for a little guy he hits like Deebo. I’ve had to pull the two up off the floor at Kiaron’s Pancake House lots then I gotta set the chairs back up and apologize to Kiaron and the staff and all the folks whose meals got interrupted and then I have to pony up an extra-large tip for the troubles and pray we don’t get banned. Again. Those breakfast tabs are a big part of why we need a big score and some big money. Of course, we could just get breakfast somewhere else, but Kiaron’s breakfast is seriously that good. Google “Kiaron” and “Pancakes” sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

I mentioned Vertie B already but I’m going to again. Like I been saying, it’s like in the movies, there is always That Girl. You know, that one that’s so beautiful it hurts your eyes and you know she’s gonna hurt your heart twice as bad. That’s Vertie B. She is smart and she has skills, I’ma get to them soon. She fights off all the dudes trying to mack on her, every last one, except her boyfriend I mean.

That boyfriend, surprise! It’s me. Off and on. And off. Vertie and I have what you call a complicated relationship. She loves me, she loves me not. That girl’s heart tick tocks back and forth like a metropolis. I suggested that she might be bipolar and then she suggested I could stick my north pole up my south pole and that was one time our relationship status went from on to off.

For a lot of years the guys and I were small-timers. We pulled off small scores in small towns and laid low and then did it again. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough and we did alright. But then I met Vertie and I started to think bigger. I never had very much to call my own, never really wanted much, truth be told, but Vertie, she’s the kind of girl you settle down with if you don’t blow it. I thought maybe if I could score a nice house with a Pickett picket fence and all that stuff that’s expected, maybe if I had that, I might just pull it off. But to do that, it was going to take a big score, not the small potatoes we were pulling in.

I’ll never forget when I first met Vertie. Yeah, I know, I know, everyone says that. I doubt anyone else had my experience, though. She was working at Kiaron’s Pancake House and no I don’t get anything for mentioning the place again but it’s part of the story. It’s a little diner like you’ve seen a billion of, you know, the kind with a jukebox and checkered floor and chrome and you step inside and it’s the 1950’s. The day I walked in, I was done. I saw that girl and the credits might as well roll, you know? She’s got everything, smarts and legs and unreal talents. I don’t mean serving up flapjacks; I’m talking about her degrees in science and psychology and her freaky mind-control skills.

“This coffee is cold as ice,” is the first thing I ever said to her. I said that and she laughed and I didn’t know why and thought there might be something on my face or worse in my nose and I then I spilled the cold coffee reaching for a napkin. It was about straight up ten in the morning, I swear, and Kiaron’s was busy since their breakfast is unreal like I keep saying. I remember I had just stirred a packet or two of sugar into one of those little coffee mugs that diners always give you. I was staring at the menu and peeping over the top at this cute waitress and acting like I was deciding on breakfast when I already knew I would get the pancakes because that’s what everyone gets. So then the cute girl came over and told me about the chicken-fried chicken sandwich. I wanted to say Yes to her and order it, I did so bad, but I can’t deal with a heavy breakfast and that sounded like pretty much as heavy as they come and I didn’t want to be rude and why was she offering me dinner now anyways? I didn’t know what to say so I just stared at her nametag and lips and eyes and that’s all because I am a gentleman. I was what you call transposed, or maybe hypnotized. “Well?” she asked, and I tried to be cool and take a sip of my coffee. That’s when I said the thing about it being ice cold.

“Yes,” Vertie said, “Let me explain why. Coffee at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimal temperature, (she had me at “Fahrenheit,” the way she made science sound hot) cools 50 degrees the first fourteen minutes. Another 50 degrees by about 45 minutes.” “Okay,” I said, because that’s all that would come out even when I wanted to ask her what all that had to do with my coffee being so cold. That’s when this girl just blew my mind. “What time you got?” she asked me and I looked up at the huge chrome clock on the wall and the shadows from the setting sun around it. Five forty-five! P.M.! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either but it was! “Dinner menu’s on the other side,” she said, taking my big plastic menu from me and flipping it over.

I had lost time, hours of it! It was freaky, like I said. Vertie B had me in a straight up daze. She got all up in my head and I was a goner. I was already imagining a beautiful future with her. And I’m not going to lie, a lot of that future running through my mind had to do with all the capers we could pull off using her special powers.

Such as the armored car job over in Belmont last year. Eight million dollars and change, I’m not lyin’, taken without bullets or baseball bats or any violence at all. Only things needed was perfect planning, perfect timing, and Vertie’s special mind trick. She had the Brink’s driver and both guards completely memorized just like she had done to me and it was child’s play to move the money bag from the dis-armored vehicle into the getaway van. That was my idea and my plan and that was what hurt the worst. See, at the time, Vertie and I were in the “off again” phase of our romance, and she gave up both the idea and her talents to Bunko “Bullets” Grimsch and he’s the wiseguy she dumped me for back then.

I lose sleep over that one still. But now Vertie and I are on again, bygones being bygones, and here’s the silver lining – Grimsch doesn’t have the payoff from the robbery. His guys (They were his guys but not anymore, now they’re missing persons) got spotted acting suspiciously on their way out of town with the loot. The police put out an APB on the van, and the guys panicked and ditched it here in Brookline. They set it on fire and left no clues, so there were no arrests and on the official record, it’s an unsolved mystery. But word on the street is: The money is still here. The commissioner over in Belmont and the one here in Brookline are childish rivals. Our Commish has locked this town up tight for the entire past year, he is sure the money hasn’t left town and he’s bound and determined to solve this case and show up the Belmont commissioner. So now Grimsch is stuck in a holding pattern. He isn’t gonna try to launder all that cash, he can’t even get the sweat stains out of his shirts. With the authorities watching every way out of town the money has got to stay put. He could try to spend it, but he’s a big shot and there are eyes on him all the time. Most of those eyes look at him like he’s the mack daddy, but me, personally, I don’t see the attraction.

Vertie B don’t see it either; not anymore, is what she keeps telling me, at least.  She was pretty broke up about betraying me, as far as I could tell, maybe about ten percent as bad as I felt. But she made it up to me. Not only do I know where the money is, I now also know when and how Grimsch intends to move it. Thanks to her special skills, Vertie got the info without anyone even knowing she did.

Now of course there’s no way can I walk away from a chance to steal the money from Grimsch that he stole using my idea and my girl. I gotta do it, but I can’t do it alone. I need the guys and this is our big big payday. All for one and once and for all. Thing is, we can not get caught. They’ll lock us up and throw out the key, and even then we won’t be safe for a second from Grimsch’s goons. I don’t even want to think about what if Grimsch catches us, they don’t call him “Bullets” for no good reason. I’ve laid eyes on him a couple times out in the street, the dude has a concealed carry permit but he always manages to make it obvious he’s packing. Got a couple of those foreign guns, Rutger Hauers I think. So we got to do this right, and I know exactly how we can. So I get the guys together and we take a ride while I explain the finer points of my mighty fine plan to them. I look in the rear-view mirror and I can see Mugsy’s Adam’s apple and Lil’ Jay Dub frowning and I know Mutombo is sitting between them but only the top of his head shows. It’s a good spot for someone who likes to be indivisible, and they do all the talking so he’s keeping quiet and conserving oxygen. I give the others about a minute then I shush everyone because I’m the oldest and I get to talk and so I lay out the deets.

The money, every last dollar of it is in the old widow Miz Greene’s front room. Get this  – It’s in a secret apartment inside her piano. The morning of St. Patrick’s Day, Grimsch is sending mobsters disguised as movers to relocate the piano and the cash inside it to another ZIP code. That doesn’t even seem possible like I told Vertie and that’s exactly why Grimsch’s guys were so eager to show off and tell her all about how brilliant their plan is. Course they didn’t know it but they were completely under her spell, and they were going to spill the beets regardless.

Truth is, that plan of theirs is actually pretty solid. They’re gonna load the piano during the St. Patrick’s parade and wait and wait until everything starts to wind down. They’ll move as the streets start to clear, and trucks start towing away the floats and the booths and stuff. Then they slip in there with all the other traffic and it won’t look suspicious at all and it could possibly be the lowest speed getaway in history. Only it won’t be, as I point out to the guys looking at me like I’m crazy. We are going to foil their plot like Mel Gibson’s apartment. I hope that line goes in the movie.

How we going to do it? Well I tell them how. We are going to already have taken the piano when they go to move it. The guys don’t believe me, I can tell by how they keep saying “I don’t believe you, Bright!” They’re just a bunch of Doubting Thompsons.

Our plan will start with Vertie, I tell them and I ignore the heavy sighs and rolling eyes. They don’t trust her like I do, but like I tell them, they don’t know her like I do. Anyways, Grimsch’s guys get breakfast at Kiaron’s every single Thursday. They fight over whose turn it is to pay, eyeball my girl, and tip heavy like they gonna impress her. She doesn’t brush them off, though, she works them for all they’re worth. They are under her thumbs no doubt. When she says “Will I see you next Thursday, fellas?” they go all gooey and there is no doubt about it, they’ll be back. The place could be boarded up or burnt down and they would still show up.

So when the lovestruck fools show up on St. Patrick’s like we know they will, Vertie is going to hold them there. She’s gonna do her mind trick on them, and they ‘ll be frozen in place while we do our thing. By our thing I mean boosting the piano and getting it into our own truck and yes I got that figured out too.

While Grimsch’s guys are hypnotized at the diner, we’ll sneak the piano right out of Miz Greene’s house on account of she is legally blind and will have The Price Is Right turned up as high as the television can go and she won’t even notice four guys all different sizes inside her house even when we’ll be wearing shiny green St. Patty’s party hats. Step two: we go out the back alley behind her house, and just across Main our own truck will be waiting. We aren’t going to mess with Grimsch’s vehicle because he is probably going to have a tracker on his vehicle this time on account of how last time went down. He won’t have a clue what we are doing, not in a million years, no exoneration.

Now all the guys have plenty to say about why this thing won’t work and I only got this far because I didn’t stop to take a breath but now I gotta.

“Okay, Bright. Facts.” I hate when Big Dummy talks like that to me but I listen out of respect and because I’m out of breath and mainly because he can reach me if I get mouthy.  “By breakfast time there’ll be barricades and policemen at nearly every intersection – – “

“Nearly!” I got excited and cut off Big Dummy in the middle of him trying to out-bright me. “Nearly is right,” I say again. “But. One intersection is gonna stay open until the parade starts.” I’m kinda proud of myself because I timed our little drive just perfectly and right now we are right at the intersection I’m talking about.

“No.” They all say it together, my four faithless passengers. “No way.” Yes, I know it is the busiest intersection in the whole city. It is a matter of record and if it were not for this particular intersection, most people around here would have nothing to complain about over their breakfasts at Kiaron’s. So of course on St. Patrick’s Day, there will be traffic in all directions, and this intersection right here will be as busy as the pancake griddle at the place I’m trying not to keep mentioning. So how are we ever going to get the piano across the street? Well, I’ll tell you, I tell them.

See, one thing I noticed is that between the time the northbound/southbound light turns red and the east and westbound light turns green, there is a seven second delay. So that means for exactly seven seconds, traffic is stopped in all directions. Nobody argues that point since we all were sitting right at that spot and I could see them counting to themselves to try to prove me wrong.

Big Dummy has more questions. I know this on account of he asks, “Exactly what truck are you planning to use, Bright?” I laugh because again we are in the right spot at the right time. I point right across the street at the food truck that’s parked there. Great Meatballs O’ Fire, it says. Vertie B got me the keys to it and I didn’t ask questions. The piano will fit in there.

“A food truck. On the day of the parade. That won’t draw a crowd.”  It sounded sarcastical to me which means my hearing is just fine. I got that angle covered too, though, Lil’ Jay Dub’s not the only one who can iron out the little wrinkles. I answer by pointing out the big sign right above the catastrophe over the O’. “NO ALCOHOL SERVED.” That guarantees the St. Patrick’s Day crowd will avoid the truck just like we want.

Now everyone blows up at me with questions like I’m in the police department Interruption Room again. It’s okay, though. I was expecting this, I cancelled my dinner and sleep plans so I’d have time to finally finish talking.

Lil’ Jay Dub is loudest. “So! We are walking with a piano, a pea-ANN-owe across the intersection. In broad daylight. We trying to get caught, is that it?” He doesn’t have to even worry about the piano I tell him. It will be four of us: Myself, Mutombo, Mugsy, and of course Big Dummy and his Big Muscles, duh. Now the other three guys have all the questions.

“So are we going to all wear masks? Disguises?” They don’t believe me when I tell them No. No masks, no disguises, just shamrock shirts and shiny green top hats like the rest of the town will be wearing. “Look at us, Bright! Tall, short, huge, and you! And a piano! I think we are going to be noticed and remembered, don’t you? And then, what – We pray that the police take us into custody before Grimsch gets a hold of us?”

Mugsy and his twin have valid points, I acknowledge and then I bring Lil’ Jay Dub back into the plan. What if, I ask, what if everyone at the intersection in their cars or on the sidewalk or how about everywhere in Brookline is distracted? “Distracted?” he says, but I can tell his wheels are spinning. “Distracted by what?” “Free drinks at O’Malley’s!” I say, all excited. “Lil’ Jay Dub… Do you think you can blow up everyone’s cell phone with an alert? Free drinks with the code you provide?” “Do I think I can?” Jay Dub says, and I know I got him. “Of course I can!” He’s scrubbing his chin and already thinking of how to do it, the guy loves a challenge and this is a good one as challenges go.

And then, finally. Finally everyone is quiet and looking at me like I’m crazy but I can tell they want to give my plan a shot. There’s eight million reasons to try it. I tell them I’m going to meet my girl Vertie up at the diner and I leave so they can all talk about me behind my back. No lie, I could tell for sure right then that they’d all be on board come Thursday.

And they were. Everybody showed up ready to do the thing, had the sleeves on their shamrock shirts rolled up except for the twins since they had on Celtics jerseys and those don’t have sleeves but I digest. We went over my “Bright idea” one more time and everybody knew their part and it was Go time and boy did we go.

This right here is the point where everything went wrong and the entire plan fell completely apart and it’s a funny story but it’s a fail. Right? Wrong. That did not happen, not even a little. The plan worked exactly like none of us really thought it would. The widow Miz Greene never looked in our direction when the twins and Big Dummy and I came for the piano, all of us wearing St. Patty green like we were Robin Hood and his merry men come to steal from the rich and she couldn’t have cared less. Her cats, there were about eight I think, they watched us but they couldn’t be bothered either. Big Dummy picked up one end of that piano like it was a Happy Meal toy and he carried about ninety percent of the weight and the other three of us handled the rest. We got that sucker out the door and down the sidewalk, easy-peasy.

Okay maybe not so easy or peasy. Mugsy carried his part of the piano up high and then Mutombo low and me just trying to keep it even although it’s purely Big Dummy keeping us afloat so to speak. Somebody mumbles through clenched teeth, “You know this is all for nothing if so much as one person sees us. We gonna leave a lasting impression.” And that’s true, it sure is, but I just know that won’t happen and I tell the guys so. It’s faith that got us this far, I remind them, and just at that moment, I hear a church bell chime. I won’t swear to that because that would be a bad idea and additionally I heard it exactly when Mugsy hit his head on the metal post that none of us had to duck under. And for bit it gets to be a precautious situation because that had to hurt and also Mutombo is allergic to cats and now he looks uncomfortable like he wants to itch his nose and of course he can’t and none of us can as we are carrying a piano. Mugsy who is not allergic thinks its funny and he’s laughing at Mutombo even though he’s the one that just whacked his head and he says “Maybe we got a cat inside the piano too” and between his crazy giggling and his brother’s snorting I can feel everything shaking. “Come on, guys,” Big Dummy growls, “Are you guys even carrying this thing? I swear Seventy-Five Cent would be a bigger help.” And that did not help because it’s actually kind of funny, Seventy-Five Cent being the guy we all know with one arm and it’s no time to be laughing but we all are except for Mutombo who keeps snorting and now his eyes and his nose are running.

Now you might be thinking uh oh Mutombo is gonna cut loose with an explosive sneeze and the piano is gonna slip and bust up into a billion pieces like Big Benny’s coffin but I’m here to tell you that it did not happen. But sure enough the guys just had to bring up the sore subject of That Time and it is not my proudest or most favorite memory. We did some heavy lifting that day too, we showed up at Big Benny’s funeral as pallbearers since word was there was a bag of jewels in the coffin with the guy and we were going to pinch it, coffin and all. It didn’t work out that way and I took the blame because my information was from Vertie. Thing is, Vertie’s tip was solid, the loot was in there, what had happened was she left out that the guy we were carrying was not only extremely heavy but he was also extremely alive. We dropped the ball that day and we dropped the coffin and we escaped with our lives but no payoff and yeah that was my bright idea. But listen, this is This Time and that was That Time and why the twins always bring that stuff up at times when I can’t exactly just walk away or put my hands over my ears I will never know. Anyhow I just focused on holding up my portion of the piano and I promised them “This time is different” and that’s when we got to the intersection with all the traffic waiting.

And that, I have got to tell you, was a thing of beauty. We got there exactly as the light turned red in both directions. Traffic parted for us just like the Dead Sea did for Noah, only it was us four. Four guys looking like we do, and a piano, and everybody, every single person in every single car was looking at their phone, no lie. Nobody looked up not even for a second and not one horn honked, not one finger pointing at us, we might as well have been indivisible. It was hard not to just stand there enjoying it but it was a lot harder to stand there with twelve hundred pounds of piano. We sat it down for a couple seconds tops on the other side while I opened up the back of the truck, and we heaved it in there and took maybe half a breath and then we all started in opposite directions. I pulled the truck into traffic as The Salty Dawg food truck driver was waiting to poach the primo location. I lean out the window and I say, “Yo! Hold my spot, I’ll be right back,” which guaranteed that he was going to take the spot and also forget ever seeing my truck which was exactly what I wanted anyways.

Trust me, we all wanted to run at this point, get out of town with the money while our luck held. But we knew it would be better to stick around looking unconspicuous so there wouldn’t be any heat on us. So the twins, they head to Kiaron’s diner so they can be seen and remembered causing a commotion when Vertie finally releases her hold on the Grimsch gang. Mutombo was cheesed off about all the fun Mugsy had at the expense of his runny nose, and Mugsy was pretty salty ‘bout the lump on his head so I knew the ruckus would be epic. Part of me wanted to see it. Nobody was ever going to suspect those two battlebots just became millionaires and ought to be vamoosicating. Big Dummy, he heads off to either the library or the gym, where he will be impossible to miss either reading or working out but definitely not leaving town in a hurry. As for myself, I get to our rendezvous spot where I can rip the Great Balls O’ Fire wrapping off of the truck and Dumpster it and park the truck in the lot where it looks pretty much like every other vehicle. I’ve got the keys to the rental office and the place to myself (There’s a parade today in case I didn’t mention it) so I can chill and wait for everyone to gradually gather back here to celebrate and split with the cash or possibly visa versa.

It’s March Madness and I put the basketball game on the television and the couch feels like heaven on my spine. I had my feet up and was watching Michigan play Colorado State when the guys showed up all hoots and hollers and high fives. All ‘cept Lil Jay Dub. He looks confused and he’s trying to be heard over all the ruckus and from what I can hear he’s trying to apologize so I hush the guys and they listen because I’m the oldest like I said but also because I am the criminal mastermind this time around.

We can’t figure out Lil’ Jay Dub, he’s like crying, and just keeps saying “It’s my fault, it’s all my fault,” and he apologizes more in thirty seconds than I’ve heard him do his entire life. By some miracle the place quiets enough that we can hear what he’s so sorry about. “I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it,” he keeps saying and I’m thinking now that these are some weird lyrics to some new rap of his. It takes the four of us to move him along from his sniveling and mumbling at the floor to piece the details together. So what had happened was he kept getting interrupted at the office while he was hacking the communications networks. Everybody was wondering what he was working on that was more important than finding a good spot to watch the parade from. And then he told us something unbelievable. He never got a chance to transmit the blast message about the free drinks at O’Malley’s!

We are all dumbfounded but we are all also laughing like idiots. Lil’ Jay Dub is more confused than any of us and keeps trying to explain exactly how everything went wrong and because we keep laughing and whooping and celebrating he finally gives up and the hilarious truth is that it didn’t take anything except human nature to get everyone to sit and stare at their phones nonstop at a red light and who would have known!

It stays noisy for a while and I tell the guys they sound like a pack of hiatus and that makes them howl louder. When they finally catch their breath it’s quiet for a minute. Lil’ Jay Dub points at the TV and asks “Who’s winning?” and I tell him Michigan, and he starts laughing at me once again and its starting to make me a little salty. He says, “Great job, Bright, they aren’t even playing, I mean the Kentucky game.” And then it was my turn to laugh because Kentucky doesn’t play until much later and when the basketball game comes back from commercial it is the Kentucky game and it is much later.

At this point I hear Mugsy asking where the truck is and Mutombo asking where Vertie is and Oh. Catastrophe. No. The truck was here and Vertie was here and now they are both long long gone and I am not the criminal mastermind at all.

You saw that coming from a mile away, didn’t you. Yeah. Sure you did, everyone did.

I can’t even talk and I must look awful because all the guys keep trying to make me feel better. “She got us all, Marshaun,” Big Dummy says. It must be pretty bad to make him use my real name. “It’s true, he’s right,” the others say, and yeah, it’s bad when they all agree with each other. “We all thought it would be different this time,” they assure me. Brothers, you have got to love them. Who else would forgive losing eight million dollars? And change, right. I put my hand up to try to stop them from making excuses for me, it’s more than I can bear. “This time was different,” I say. And sadly, it was different. Because I knew, I knew in my heart all along, that it was gonna end like this. And I did it anyway. How is that for silly.

Big Dummy puts his massive arm around me. “You okay? You sound different.”

I guess I do, my voice sounds foreign to me, maybe not wiser but certainly older. As wrong as everything feels, it feels exactly like I knew it would since way back. I always knew Vertie B and I would end like this, knew it from the day she first tricked me. She made me cry a lot more than any one person ought to, that girl. I can say I’m better off, and maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. I’ll let her go, fall on my sword, and imagine her happy, imagine her living her best life, until I don’t imagine her at all anymore. Right now, it’s a fresh wound and reality is a harsh slap. It’s hard to believe that it’s over. It’s all over and done and this is how the story…

JUST ABOUT…

Mutombo is over there wiping his eyes and snuffling and it hurts even worse to see him crying. Only no. It’s his allergies. The curtains move by his leg and a cat is rubbing against it, the cat that got away from Miz Greene. It looks like a mini-leopard and it looks pregnant and Big Dummy calls it an Ashera which I do not know from Snagglepuss. According to our brawny expert, it’s the most valuable cat there is. Too bad it’s ours now. “It’s ours now,” says Mugsy, like he read my mind. “I think we should name it Sneezy,” he says, taking a poke at his twinemy like he has to. And suddenly, I feel better now, a lot better. “I tell you exactly what we’re gonna name that cat,” I say, and everybody just stares at me.

“Ransom.”

That’s gonna be the next story you hear from me.

THE END