Joanne and Sean come running to the door. She screams and sprints down the steps and across the lawn, collapsing onto her son.
From down on my knees, I shout, “Sean, call nine-one-one! Do it now!”
But the son of a bitch hesitates.
“You sure that’s a good idea, buddy?” he says. “I mean, that’s got all the ear markings of a hit by Don Juan Perez. What the hell did you do to piss him off?”
I pat my back pocket, find my phone. My hands are trembling and there’s blood on them. But I manage to dial 911. The dispatcher asks me to state the nature of my emergency. I tell her my son’s been shot, and that he badly needs an ambulance right now.
“Is he breathing?” she asks.
I place my ear over his mouth.
“Yes,” I say.
“Okay,” she says. “Do not try to move him. What’s your address?”
I tell her.
“Assistance is on its way, sir,” she says.
The connection is cut. I stare down at my son. His eyes are rolling around in their sockets. He’s trying to speak to me.
“Am I shot?” he mumbles, like his mouth has blood in it.
“Yes, son,” I say, tears welling up in my eyes.
You’ve been shot and it all your mom’s and my fault…
“How…many…times,” he asks, his words barely audible above Joanne’s weeping.
“It looks like twice, Junior,” I say.
“Direct…pressure,” he says. “Apply…direct…pressure.”
He barely gets the last word out before his eyes roll back in his head and he passes out.
Placing my hands on both entry wounds, I shout, “Don’t you die on me, son! Stay with us!”
He’s been shot in the left chest and lower pelvis area. I have both my hands pressed over both wounds, the blood seeping out from the narrow openings between my fingers. It dawns on me then that we can’t be here when the EMTs and the police arrive. If we’re here, they will arrest us and we will be no good to Junior if we’re in jail. But that’s not the only reason we need to flee. If we’re in jail, I have no doubt in my mind that Don Juan Perez will find a way to kill us all. After all, there are plenty of gangsters in jail and in New York State prisons. They will find us and kill us. It will be Perez’s ultimate revenge.
Coming out of the distance now, sirens.
“Joanne!” I bark. “Listen to me. You’ve got to go back in the house. Retrieve the money from the closet and your gun. Do you hear me?”
She’s not acknowledging me. She’s just down on her knees, crying her eyes out.
“Joanne!” I scream. “You’ve got to listen to me.”
She cries some more. That’s when I do something I have never done in my life, nor ever thought of doing. I slap her across the face. She does something that takes me by surprise. She immediately stops crying. Raising her hand, she gently touches the spot on her face where I slapped her. In the exterior lamp light, I can see that the tips of her fingers are covered in our son’s blood and some of it smears on her cheek.
Over her shoulder I see Sean just standing there in shock. He’s gone from totally buzzed to stone cold sober. For once he has nothing to say. He’s just standing there like a statue.
“You hit me,” she says.
“I’m trying to get you to focus,” I say. “You hear those sirens? That’s not only an ambulance. That’s the cops too. We will be arrested and charged with murder. So then, while I’m applying pressure to Junior’s wounds, you and Sean go back in the house. Collect your gun, the money in the bedroom, and the phone chargers. Go now. Are we understanding one another, Joanne?”
Her fingers still touching her face, still smearing blood.
“Yes,” is all she says.
Standing, she about-faces and heads for the front door. Sean follows on her boot heels. Meanwhile, I focus back on my son.
“Hang in there, kid,” I plead. “Help is on the way.”
“Dad,” he says, his voice even weaker than before. “Who…shot…me?”
“Some bad people,” I say. “Don’t worry. You’re gonna make it. I’m gonna get the people who did this to you.”
“Don’t get…yourself…killed,” he says.
I’ll be damned if he isn’t trying to smile.
“That’s my boy,” I say, leaning into him, and kissing his forehead.
Joanne and Sean reappear at the front door. He’s carrying the shoe boxes, and she’s got her leather bag. I wave them towards me. Coming from out of the very near distance now, more sirens. Louder, more blaring sirens.
“Listen, Junior,” I say, “the EMTs are here. Your mother and I have to leave. I’ll explain it all later when you’re better. But for now, we have to go. You will be in good care. You’re going to your own emergency room.”
That’s when I feel my eyes well up for the second time. If I allowed myself, I could burst out in tears on the spot. But the last thing I want my son to see is a weak father. Maybe I was a boring father when I was raising him. A stable father. And maybe I’ve changed a lot since those days. But I can also show him that I’m a stronger man than I used to be. Right now, he needs a strong, confident dad, or he won’t make it.
“I love you,” I say. “Never forget that.”
Releasing my hands from his wounds, I dig in my back pocket for my handkerchief. I wipe as much of the blood as I can from my hands while going to Brad Junior’s truck. Opening the passenger side door, I grab the plastic money bag. If I leave it here, the police will surely confiscate it for evidence once they make my entire property a crime scene. Coming back around the truck I gaze at my new Jeep and see that the back tired have been shot out. Both of them are flat. It’s useless.
“Sean?” I bark. “Your Volkswagen! Now!”
He fumbles in his pockets for his keys.
“I hope I have gas,” he says.
I snatch the keys out of his hands.
“You get in the back,” I insist, heading for the car at the bottom of the driveway. “Joanne, you ride shotgun.”
She turns once more, eyes her son lying on the lawn, bathed in a dark red pool of his own blood.
“I love you, Bradley!” she shouts, her face streaming with tears. “Please stay alive!”
For a quick second, I swear my son is trying to raise his right hand, as if to reassure his mother he’s all right. He is far stronger than I ever gave him credit. I open the driver’s side door of Sean’s ride, toss the money bag to the passenger side floor. Slipping myself behind the wheel of the Volkswagen hatchback, I shove the key in the starter, and turn the engine over. I have to believe my boy is going to live. If I don’t believe that, I will die a slow death. Joanne will die an even slower death.
The sirens are getting so close I’m convinced we’re not going to make it out of there on time.
“Get in!” I demand. “Hurry up!”
Sean opens the passenger side door, shoves himself and the shoeboxes of cash in the back seat. Joanne, her eyes never leaving her son, slowly seats herself in the shotgun seat. She closes the door. She’s openly weeping, her sobs breaking my heart. Shoving the floor mounted joystick in reverse, I pound my foot on the gas and back out of the drive without bothering to look in the rearview or side mirrors.
Hitting the brakes, I press the tranny in drive, and punch the gas once more, the tires spitting gravel. We’re heading further into the neighborhood.
“Where the hell you going, Brad buddy?” Sean begs. “The main road is in the opposite direction.”
My son is dying on the front lawn of the home he grew up in, and he’s back to calling me, Brad buddy.
“We go toward the main road, we’ll run into a caravan of cops,” I say.
“But there’s no way out,” Joanne says, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. “It’s a cul de sac.”
“When there’s a will,” I say, and leave it at that.
I speed down the dark neighborhood road, until I spot Sean’s split-level ranch. Tapping the brakes, I pull into his driveway.
“You’re dropping me off, buddy, at a time like this?” he asks.
“No, Sean, pal,” I say. “You’re in for the long haul. You’re not getting off that easy.”
Pulling onto the lawn, I drive around the house, across the back lawn to a patch of woods that separates Sean’s property from the backyard of a house located in the adjoining neighborhood. The headlamps lighting up the brush and the trees, I plow through the thick stuff like I’m driving a Sherman tank. Sideswiping a tree, I can feel the driver’s side door panel cave in.
“Holy crap, Bradley,” Sean spits, sitting up and sticking his head through the opening between the seats. “I was gonna trade this in for a Mercedes next week.”
I have to admit, I can’t help but feel a little glee, smashing Sean’s ride up a little. Serves him right. Balling my wife in the basement. What was he thinking? That I would never find out about their affair?
“That is you live to see next week, Sean pal,” I say, the car bumping and pounding its way through the woods, the engine revving, the wheels spinning and slipping on the wet, muddy earth. “We are officially on the run from both the law and Don Juan Perez.”
“But he’s our partner in the Bubble Gum op,” he says. “Surely all this is a one big misunderstanding.”
Joanne does something then that takes me by complete surprise.
“Listen, you drunk son of a bitch!” she barks over her shoulder. “My son is dying right now and it’s all your fucking fault!”
I break through the woods, then plow through somebody’s wood privacy fence. Speeding across the back lawn past an in-ground pool, I crash through another section of fencing. Motoring across the side and front lawn, I end up on another neighborhood street called, Princess Lane. This street accesses the main north/south New York Route 9 via a connecting church parking lot. Gunning the Volkswagen, I turn onto the church lot which is empty at this time of day. I race across the lot, find the outlet to the road, and hook a left onto it.
We’re free, for now.
“That’s not fair, Joanne,” Sean says, sitting back. “I had nothing to do with Bradley Junior getting shot.”
“You got us into this,” she says.
“You asked me to fucking get you into this,” he spits.
He has a point. Joanne did ask him to get us into this.
“He’s right, Jo,” I say. “Nobody put a gun to our heads when we decided to enter the drug trade. We did it by our own accord, and now we’re suffering the consequences.”
She starts weeping again.
“I hope they’re taking good care of our son,” she says, through the tears. “If we lose him, I don’t know how I can go on.”
I place my hand on her leg, give it a squeeze.
“He’s going to be fine,” I say. “He’s young and strong. By the looks it, he wasn’t hit in a vital spot.”
Of course, I have no idea if this is true or not, but it seems like the right thing to say. It’s also something I want to believe.
“How can you be sure?” she says, reaching into her purse and pulling out a fresh Kleenex. “You’re just a mailman.”
Oh now that hurts…
She wipes her eyes and blows her nose. Removing my hand, I pat my now flat, hard belly.
“Because I feel it in my gut,” I say. “He’s not only going to live, he’s going to have a full recovery. Trust me. Right now he’s probably telling the surgeons exactly what to do and how to do it.”
We drive along Route 9 until we pass by the city, and the scenery becomes more rural and more dark.
“Where are we going, Brad buddy?” Sean says after a time.
“Somewhere safe,” I say. “We’ll find a small motel in the Catskills away from it all, and regroup. We’ll make a plan.”
“For what exactly?” Sean says.
“For killing Don Juan Perez,” I say. “Before he kills us first.”
“Bite the head off the snake,” Joanne says. “The rest of the body dies.”
“That would be the plan,” I say.
“You both are crazy, you know that?” Sean says. “Don Juan Perez has access to a fucking army.”
“We do too,” I say. “He just doesn’t know it yet. You don’t know it yet.”
A heavy silence fills the beat-up Volkswagen while we speed down a narrow road flanked by trees and the occasional farmhouse.
“I could really use a beer right now,” Sean says after a time.
I glance at him in the rearview, at his puffy, sore black eye, at his almost swelled face.
“Me too, buddy,” I say. “Me too.”
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