The Spectrum News switches over to a commercial.
“There’s got to be something on Brad Junior by now,” I say.
“Why don’t we just call the hospital for God’s sakes.”
“I don’t want to take that chance, Jo. Not yet. They’ll have our number and voices on record.”
“We can use the motel phone,” she pushes.
“Just hang on,” I insist.
Joanne is standing between the duct tape-bound Sean and the small round plastic table. Her arms are crossed tightly over her chest. Meanwhile, Sean is back to more or less passed out.
“I’m sorry, Bradley,” she says.
“What for?” I say. “For deciding to become a drug runner?”
“No,” she says. “For what happened with Sean. I didn’t want you to know.”
“So how long has it been going on?” I ask again.
“Not long,” she says. “A few weeks. I guess I just got caught up in the excitement of everything and then, it just sort of happened. I feel like what we’ve been doing…the life we’ve been living, the money we’ve been making…it’s like I’ve been living inside a Netflix show.” She tears up again. “And then our son goes and gets shot.”
“How’s that for a dose of reality,” I say.
I’m holding the remote in my hand. I’m squeezing it so tight, I feel like I could crush it. The news comes back on. The same young woman who’s been reporting on the local murders of the Perez brothers and the Camps is holding a microphone to her face just outside our Hope Street house.
“Here it is,” I say. “Pray to God he’s all right.”
“As we’ve been reporting all evening, earlier tonight, a local physician was cut down by a drive-by shooting,” she says into her mic. “Doctor in Residence, Bradley Jones, Junior, twenty-eight of Albany, was shot twice. Once in the chest and once in the upper pelvic region. While Jones’s condition is considered critical at the moment, doctors tell us he is stable and his injuries non-life threatening since no vital organs were damaged. He did however, lose considerable blood and several bones were broken, along with a collapsed left lung.”
“Oh thank God,” my wife says through her tears.
I on the other hand, say nothing, because I’m afraid I’ll burst out crying if I do. That’s how happy I am. My son is going to live and that means all the world to me. I just hope he’ll find it in his heart to forgive us for having to run out on him, the way we did. But then, what choice did we have? There was never any choice.
“The precise reason for the shooting,” the reporter goes on, “remains unclear. However, what is becoming more and more clear, is this: the residents of this humble home on Hope Street in a sleepy hamlet of North Albany, Bradley Jones and Joanne Jones, both fifty-eight years of age, are now the major suspects not only in the killings of the Perez Brothers some months back, but also in the murders of Mark and Melanie Camp. That is, according to testimony by Albany Homicide Detective, David Danish. They are also suspected of having become mixed up in a rival drug war with suspected cartel member, Juan Perez, older brother of the slain gang members, Hector and Julio Perez. Up until recently, Bradley Jones was a near thirty-five year veteran of the postal service with a stellar record of conduct. Mrs. Jones was a housewife who occasionally volunteered at the Albany Public Library. How the two seemingly mild mannered, middle-aged couple got caught up in a drug war, is for anyone to speculate, states Danish. But it is indeed strange, and by all accounts, tragic due the severe wounding of their son, and the killings of four Albany residents.”
The reporter signs off. It’s at that precise time, my phone vibrates in my pocket.
“Well, thank God my name didn’t come up, Brad buddy,” a suddenly awake Sean says from the chair he’s bound to. He’s been watching the report the entire time. “Thank God for small miracles, huh? Now, you gonna untie me?”
Joanne does something that shocks me then. She steps around the front of the chair and, facing Sean, she hauls off and slaps him across the face. She hits him so hard I can almost feel it.
“You bastard,” she says. “You haven’t even mentioned our son. He wouldn’t be shot if it wasn’t for you.”
Sean’s got a bright red cheek to go with that shiner of an eye. But he looks more hurt by Joanne’s anger than the slap.
“Why’d you have to go and hit me, Jo honey?” he spits.
Jo honey…He’s got to be kidding… I’m standing right here…
“You’ve been talking to Juan Perez,” she says. “You told him we killed his brothers. His men forced it out of you. You either confessed or they were gonna kill you. Chop you up or something.”
“I did no such thing,” Sean insists, but I can tell by the way his eyes are rolling around in their sockets that he’s a lying sack of shit.
He knows we know he’s lying. I glance at my phone. It’s another couple messages from Perez. My pulse picks up, mouth goes dry.
“Brad buddy,” Sean says. “You don’t believe what Joanne is saying, do ya? I would never rat you guys out to save my own skin. Come on, how long we been friends?”
Glancing up from my phone.
“Joanne,” I say, “gag our old friend before he makes me shoot him.”
She picks up the roll of tape, tears off a long piece and wraps it around Sean’s entire head, including his big mouth. His eyes go wide and he starts yelling into the tape, but his voice is entirely muted. That’s a good thing. I shift my eyes back to my phone. What I see is fire. Our new funeral home is going up in flames.
Turning the phone around so that Joanne and our business partner can see what’s happening to our combo funeral parlor/Bubble gum cooking facility. “Behold what’s left of our business, folks.”
Joanne’s face goes so tight I’m afraid it might split down the center. She’s so angry right now, I’m surprised she’s not using Sean’s head for a speed bag. Speaking of Sean, his eyes also go wide. He starts shouting into his gag. I have no idea what he’s saying, but I can tell it’s something about his having nothing to do with the fire.
Another photo comes through. It’s an image of our Russian friend, Lurch, along with Smirking Jack and Thin Jay. They are wearing Hazmat suits and holding their gas masks in their hands. Randy is smirking as usual, while the others stare at the camera with deadpan expressions. There’s someone else in the photo standing beside them. Someone I’ve never seen before, but whom I suspect is Sean’s old Russian boss, Carcov. Why do I believe this? Because I’ll be damned if he doesn’t fit the cliched image of the TV Russian gangster. He’s tall, and heavy in the middle. His hair is white and slicked back on his round head with gel. The navy blue Nike track suit he’s wearing is too small, and his gut protrudes from it. His eyes are covered in Rayban aviator sunglasses and he’s got a couple thick silver chains hanging off his neck.
Turning the phone around so Sean can see the picture.
“Carcov,” I say. “Is that him?”
He tries to say something through the gag.
“Just nod your head,” I insist. “Yes or no.” Eyes wide, he nods his head. Turning the phone screen back around. “So the head Russian is now personally teaming up with the head Mexican. That way they cut us out entirely. Makes sense, I guess.” My eyes back on Sean. “Let me guess, old buddy, you helped facilitate the deal.”
His eyes even wider, he shouts something into the tape. Something like, “I can explain,” or “What choice did I have, they had a gun to my head,” or “They were gonna torture me.”
Anyway, doesn’t matter now, does it?
Behind Carcov and the other three now former Fitzgerald Funeral Home workers is a sophisticated menagerie of stainless steel drug cooking apparatus that makes the setup we had in the basement of the funeral parlor like a junior high toy chemistry set.
I say, “I can bet Don Juan and Carcov are paying our former employees a hell of a lot more than we were paying them. Looks like he was going to pay Sean too. Isn’t that right, old buddy?”
“Don Juan can afford it,” Joanne says. “We don’t have Don Juan’s hundreds of millions. Not yet.”
Another text comes through from Don Juan. This one is words only.
“You can’t hide, gringo. When the time is right, I will find you and you will know what it’s like to be in pain for a long time before you die.”
My body is trembling. My eyes are not focused on the digital smartphone screen, but instead, glued to it. I’m reading his words over and over again but they never change. What I’m living right now is not a nightmare. It is much worse because it is reality. It means I’m not going to wake up.
“What is it?” Joanne says. “What else is he saying, Bradley?”
Finally, I pull my eyes away from the phone and glance at her.
“I think he knows where we are,” I say, my mouth so parched, the words hardly coming out.
Sean’s eyes are wide open. Even the black and blue one. His face is so red, it’s possible he’s going to burst a blood vessel in his brain. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
“What do you mean he knows where we are?” Joanne goes on.
“He has people all over the place,” I say. “If you want to call them people. Human beings are people. The animals we’re going to be dealing with are not human.”
But that’s when something hits me over the head. Shoving my phone in my back pocket, I go to the door, open it, and head outside. Pulling my smartphone out, I depress the flashlight icon. Going around the back of Sean’s Volkswagen hatchback, I drop to one knee and spray the bright LED light under the back bumper. It takes maybe a second and a half for me to find it. A Lojack tracking device. Yanking it off the bumper, I straighten up, then toss the device to the gravel covered ground and stomp on it with my boot heel. Killing the flashlight app, I shove the phone back in my pocket.
“This is all my fault,” I whisper to myself. “I should have never trusted Sean. Never trusted this entire scheme. Maybe I should not have trusted my wife either.”
Heading back inside, I see Joanne draw the curtains closed on the window over the round table.
“You mean they could be looking in at us right now, Bradley?”
I tell her about the Lojack.
“They could be surrounding us right now,” I say. “Or maybe they still haven’t yet caught up to us. But there is one thing I do know.”
She folds her arms tightly around her chest again.
“What is it, Bradley?” she asks.
My eyes back on my phone.
“I’ll calling Danish,” I say. “This ends now. We need police protection, and we need it now, Joanne.”
I don’t know Danish’s private line, but all I have to do is look up the APD, Central Avenue Precinct, and the dispatcher will connect me with at least his mailbox. If my gut instinct is right on, Danish is the type to check his messages all hours of the night. I press the Alexa icon.
“Alexa,” I say into the phone, “find me the phone number for the Albany Police Department, Central Avenue Precinct.”
Alexa not only spits the number out, but it appears on the screen. All I’m required to do is tap on it with the pad of my index finger. Heart beating in my throat, I tap the number, then place the phone to my ear.
That’s when I hear, “Bradley, please put the phone down, honey.”
I shoot my wife a quick glance. What I see doesn’t shock me, so much as breaks my heart in two even worse than watching her T-boning Sean. My wife is holding her gun on me.
“I mean it, Bradley, hang up the phone,” she demands.
I can hear the ringing coming over the connection.
“Why are you doing this, Jo?” I ask. “It’s our only chance to get out of this alive.”
She raises the gun, aims it directly at my face. If she shoots me at pointblank range, she’ll evaporate my head. Sucking in a deep breath, I press the end call icon, store the phone in my back pocket.
“We get the cops involved, we’ll go away for life. I’ll go away for life. But we both know life is a joke, since Perez will have us both killed inside prison. He’ll stop at nothing to see us dead. And if he doesn’t succeed, maybe Carcov will. Isn’t that why we ran from the police in the first place? Isn’t that why we left our son all alone, bleeding out on the front lawn?”
She’s right, of course. Either way, Juan Perez will kill us. Doesn’t matter if we call Detective Danish and confess. Perez has his sights set on us and that’s that.
“So what you’re saying is we really do need to kill Perez before he gets to us,” I say, like a question.
“Something like that,” she says.
“Back to biting the head off the snake.”
“It was your original plan,” she says. “Your gut plan. We should stick with it instead of going back and forth on the issue. The world isn’t big enough for us to hide in.”
I nod, but then I’m not sure it matters if I agree with my wife or not.
“You gonna keep that thing pointed at me all night, Jo?”
She lowers the gun, shoves the barrel into her pant waist. For a second or two, we just stand there looking at one another inside that cramped motel room like we’re seeing each other for the very first time. When a vehicle pulls up outside the window, the tires squealing against the pavement, we don’t have time to take cover. The explosive hail of rapid-fire rounds shatters the picture window into a thousand little pieces.
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