Sunday, November 20, 2011

Issue Fourteen, Volume Two


From the Desk of the Editor,
     Welcome back to another edition of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we are offer stories of life, love, lost, and regret. Also special for this issue—both writer’s middle names start with an “A”. Think about that.

     Thank you for reading!

Yours,
Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor


An Excerpt from: Del City Nights or Thirty and One Nights
By Quentin A. Pongratz

“Not so well. Crying and such.”
She drove her car into the parking lot. She parked it next to the only other car there. She got out of the car. She walked down the sidewalk towards the pavilion.
He was sitting on a bench under the pavilion. He was looking at the metal rocket ship in front of him. He remembered going down the slide so many times as a kid. He remembered touching his first boob underneath the structure. He remembered a handjob in the top of the rocket. She walked in front of the rocket and interrupted his memories.
“Hey,” she said as she approached him.
“Hey.”
She sat down next to him and looked at the rocket for a moment before talking again. “I’m not doing anything else in that rocket if that’s what you wanted.” She laughed.
“Maya, that’s not really--”
“Yeah.” She paused. “I know.”
“So...”
“Yeah. So.”
He coughed. “I guess we both know what’s about to happen.”
“I guess so.”
“Well, then is that that?”
“No.” She stood up. She turned her back to him. She kicked a stick.
“We both know what this is about, what does it matter if we go through the motions? Can’t it just be done?”
“No.” She swallowed. “If you want to end this you have to do it. You have to… say it.”
“Uhm. Alright.” He swallowed. “I think we should end it. We should break up.”
She bent down and picked up a stick. She threw it through one of the gaps in the pavilion towards the water fountains. Those weren’t there when she was a kid. She remembered when her parents would go to the gas station just down the street when she wouldn’t stop complaining about how thirsty she was. She remembered this pavilion having fewer benches than it did now. She remembered the absence of the walkway in her youth. She remembered when the rocket ship was free from memories of him. She remembered a time before him.
“Why are you crying?” the little girl before her asked.
“Because of a dumb boy.”
“Did he push you?”
“Kind of.” She wiped her hand beneath her eyes.
“Boys are gross.”
“You won’t think so one day.”
“Nope. They have cooties.”
She laughed. A hand touched her shoulder. She paused—the girl no longer there.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She let out a small chuckle. “Okay?” She shrugged off the hand and turned towards its origin. “Okay?” Tears streamed down her face. “What the fuck kind of question is that? No. I’m not okay. You just broke up with me.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not. You don’t care. You can’t care. If you cared you wouldn’t do this.”
“That’s not it. I just can’t—“
“Can’t what? Can’t stand me anymore? Can’t deal with me? What is it?”
“I…” He sighed. He looked at the ground. He kicked a stick.
The tears stopped streaming. “Yeah…” she said drying her cheeks with her hand.
He pulled a pack of tissues from his back pocket. “Here.”
She snatched them from his hand. “Thanks…”
“Yeah. I figured I should bring them with how your cheeks get when you cry.”
She started crying again. She threw the tissues on the ground and walked over to the swings. It was getting dark. He walked behind her and sat on the swing next to the one she occupied. They both pushed off and dragged their feet in the sand beneath. She remembered the days when someone would push her. She remembered when she was finally tall enough to loop the swing over the top bar like everyone else. She remembered when she jumped off and landed wrong; she broke her arm and had to go to the hospital. She remembered being the most popular kid in her class for a few days due to the purple signature magnet encasing her arm.
“Why don’t you push him back?” The little girl leaned on a bar that supported the swing set. “That’s what my friend Amy always tells me to do.”
“Oh yeah?” She remembered her friend Amy. She remembered when her friend Amy had to move in the seventh grade. She remembered talking to her on the phone all the time. She remembered talking to her not as much. She remembered talking to her not at all.
“Yeah. She’s tough. We’re gonna be best friends forever.”
“Yeah…”
“So,” he said.  The little girl was not longer there.
“Go fuck yourself.” She pushed back.
“I just—”
“Seriously. Just leave me the fuck alone. That’s what you wanted, right? No more of me. Well then get out of here. Leave me alone.”
He opened his mouth to speak a few times, but no words ever arrived. He got off the swing. He walked away from the swing set. He walked towards his car. He opened up the door. He started the engine. The car backed out of its parking space and drove out of the parking lot.
“FUCK YOU!” she yelled after the car. She laughed. She kicked her feet forward and backwards. She picked up momentum. She started rocking the swing set with her swings. She remembered a time when she wasn’t too old for this. Stars started appearing in the sky. The wind rushed past her. She jumped.

End

About the Author:
Quentin A Pongratz is a writer from Del City, Oklahoma. He holds two degrees in mathematics and English. He likes to write quirky stories and just hopes that one day someone will take his writing serious and like him as a writer.

See more about him and his novels at quentinap.com


Gates
by Forest Arthur Ormes

Fifty thousand dollars was one fourth the money Gates Johnson needed to bankroll the life style his girlfriend deserved.  At four thousand a month, he needed one hundred ninety two  thousand to last forty eight months.  Make it an even two hundred.

He had served four years, three months and twenty two days of a seven year sentence for armed robbery and suddenly he had been paroled into the work release program.  As suddenly, he had fallen in love. 

Her name was Mona as in Mona Lisa.   She had the kind of golden-skin sought by sunbathers from Miami to Santa Monica.  Mona was slim.  Smart.  Handsome with a pair of high-cheekbones and Roman nose worthy of magazine covers.  She was articulate to a fault.   Gates would even say mouthy.  She was a year short of a college diploma.   The rest of her education came from the streets where she started using heroin and eventually got accustomed to nineteen months in the penitentiary for possession.
 
Gates and Mona met in The Liberty Center, the name of the complex which housed male and female parolees before they were released into society at large.  It also housed a treatment center and half way house for substance abusers.  Mona lived in the women’s wing of The Liberty Center; Gates in the men’s. 

Mona liked expensive earrings, fashionable leather coats and chef-prepared dinners.  Her taste was accompanied by a hunger to experience the best Paris restaurants where she had never eaten, the finest Paris hotels where she had never slept in a city she had never visited.   The fact that a condition of her parole stipulated that she could not travel beyond a fifty mile radius of her work release site only intensified her hunger for earrings, leather coats and chef-prepared meals. 

Mona and Gates Johnson worked for a non-medical detox unit in the basement of The Liberty Center.  She served as an intake worker because she was college educated while Gates held the position of intake assistant.  The police would escort half a dozen drunks out from the paddy wagon and down the stairs.  Gates would lead them to a mattress laid upon two pallets.  When the half a dozen gentlemen had sobered up enough, Gates led them to a chair where he observed them another quarter of an hour to make sure the alcohol had not masked any crazies.   A fifty year old wiry white man had tried to put his hands around Gates’ throat once.   Gates grasped the man’s wrist and pushed him to the floor, one arm pulled between his legs to render the rest of the gentleman harmless.  Gates had twisted the other arm behind the man’s back.  Mona called the police who thanked Gates and took the same gentleman to a destination unknown. 

The next step was intake.  Mona would introduce each man to the option The Liberty Center offered – five days of detox followed by twenty eight days of free treatment.  If, after the five days of detox, the gentleman preferred to return to the streets, he was free to leave in whatever clothes The Liberty Center had provided. 

That was Mona’s job.

It took three months of good behavior before the social workers at The Liberty Center gave Gates and Mona permission to stay away for the night. 

“We had to kiss their ass just to get permission to sleep together,” Mona muttered as they descended the steps of the center, heading for a motel.

The Suite Royale was located on a corner skirting two blue collar suburbs just south of an exclusive suburb which hosted one of only two French restaurants in the entire metropolitan area of three million people.  Mona had been after Gates to take her to this restaurant for the last month.  Gates had found a motel as close to the French restaurant as he could get at a price he could pay. 

The clerk of the motel stared up at Gates when he opened the door.

 “Credit card, please,” he said. 

Gates hesitated.

”It will be cash,” he responded. 

“Cash up front for the cost of the room plus a deposit of half the cost of the room.”

“What!”     

“No credit card, it’s cash up front for the cost of the room and a deposit half the cost of the room. 
Other places charge full cost for the deposit.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

“Listen, pal.  You got no credit card, it’s cash up front.  We gotta have something to guarantee against damage or theft.”

“Are you saying he’s a thief!” Mona interrupted.

“You want to drive up Ogden Avenue to the Plymouth Inn they’ll tell you the same thing, lady.  Cash up front plus a deposit equal to the full cost of the room.”

“Here, maybe this will shut you up.”

Gates laid down a hundred dollar bill.

“One room with a king-sized bed,” Gates told him.

“That will be ninety seven fifty out of a hundred.  You get your thirty two fifty when you check out.  One keycard, or two?” 

Gates stared at him.  He thought about his parole.  He thought about Mona’a parole.
“One will do fine,” he answered.

The clerk took the money, pushed the receipt across the counter, asked Gates to sign, then swiped the key card and pushed it across the counter. 

“Room seventy seven,” he said.

“Nice of him to hand it to you,” Mona said when they exited the office and headed toward their borrowed Oldsmobile. 

Their room was on the ground floor, back of the motel in the corner.

“At least we got the corner.  Only one neighbor.”

“Huh,” she responded.

When he opened the door, the first thing he saw was the two double beds.  The green rug had white stains the size of a handkerchief at the foot of each bed. 

“You see that shit,” Mona said, waving her hand across the foot of the beds.  “Go tell that attitude sitting at the front desk you want the room you ordered.” 

“You want me to be the heavy.”

“I want you to demand he give you what you asked.”

“And as soon as that white clerk smells defiance he calls the police who send three patrol cars and six white cops to respond to a motel clerk’s alert that a black couple are getting threatening and disorderly.  All over two white blotches on a rug.”

“Gates, honey.   Prison took something out of you.  I bet you wouldn’t have talked that way before you went in.”

“Your parole is up in eight months.  Mine isn’t up for two years and eight months.”

“Gates, honey.   Gates… honey.”

Gates nodded toward the two double beds. 

“Separate beds?” he said, smiling slightly. 

“Separate my ass.”

“Which is the third best thing I like about you.”

“Now you’ve thrown that out you better cough up the first two.” 

“The second being your skin.  Your ancestors came from Egyptian royalty.  You have the face of a princess, Mona.”

“Now you’ve talked your way up to the first.”

“Your mouth.  Not the shape of it.  Of course that’s beauty.  It’s how the words come out.  Defiance.  Hurt.  Love.  All contained in how you say your words.”

Mona smiled, bowed her head, removed her leather coat and laid it across one of the double beds.   As she began unbuttoning her red silk blouse, Gates touched her short-cut black hair.   Mona bent her left arm at the elbow to grasp his right hand and place it on her breast.  Then she stroked Gates’s perfectly groomed hair, lowered her hand and stroked his cheek.

Gates remembered when he was living with his grandmother.  He was getting bused to the third grade in what was a temporary classroom for that year.  Three white kids had surrounded him against the brick wall of a building.   He tackled the biggest of the three, wrestled him to the ground and twisted his left arm behind him.   He grabbed the kid’s head with his right arm and put him in a head lock.  The other kids started kicking Gates.  He held onto the kid’s head and arm and would not let go.  Finally the kid in the head lock hollered: 

“Let him be or he won’t let go of me.” 

He never made any friends that year, but they let him be the remainder of it.

It wasn’t until he went to live with his mother that he began running the streets.  His mother worked the night shift in a plastics factory and she waited tables in the afternoons when that same factory released its workers from the afternoon shift.  She slept in the mornings when Gates was in school.  By the end of his sophomore year he was stealing cars and turning them over to a chop-shop man.  Those four and a half years for armed robbery didn’t come for another twenty two years. 

Mona had taken off her blouse.  As she reached behind her back with her left hand to unhook her bra, she stopped to stare at the white stain at the foot of their double bed.  She took her hand away, leaving her bra fastened. 

Gates remained silent.

“White stains,” she uttered.  “No king-size bed.  Ignorant excuse for a motel clerk. Talked to you like you were paying by the hour.  Like you were my trick.  Cheap little white man without class.” 

Mona looked around at the light green walls of their room.  A print of a skyscraper hung above each bed.  

“I bet there isn’t one original item in this room.  Every room is the same cheap shit.”

“Mona…”

“Get me out of here, Gates.”

“What!”

“Now!”

“We’ve paid for this place.”

“Paid for a dump is what we’ve paid for.”

Mona paused a few seconds before she said:  “Let’s go to that French restaurant.”

“Now, Mona.  You want to” – he gestured at her half nakedness – “go… there… now?”

“One hour ago now,” she answered.

Gates wound the borrowed brown Oldsmobile through the labyrinth of exclusive side streets and turns, eventually coming upon the village hall, police and fire station, library and bank all within two square blocks.  He parked the Olds in front of the library.  He and Mona crossed the street, and then walked past the bank.  They crossed the second street with its fine ice cream parlor on the corner.  They crossed the railroad tracks and came to a halt in front of the French restaurant.

“Closed until further notice,” Mona read aloud.  “As ordered by the Public Health Department of Hawthorne Township.”

“Shit,” she blurted. 

A passer-by glanced at them. 

“I know one of the best Chinese restaurants around,” Gates said in response. 

Mona glared back at him.

Suddenly the railroad gates began ringing.  The gates went down.  Mona and Gates waited.  A few seconds later an express passenger train came roaring past.  When the last of the passenger cars disappeared, the gates rose to a vertical position.  The short line of cars that had been waiting began moving across the tracks.  A fourth crossed from the other side. 

As they re-crossed the tracks and headed back toward the Olds, Gates stopped, raised his arms and opened his hands as if in surrender. 

“What can I do to make you happy?” he asked.

Mona smiled.

“I got a class man with no money and a rusty sense of taste.”

Gates stared over toward the bank, then beyond at the police station.    

“Take me back,” Mona said, breaking their silence.

“I thought you wanted to eat.”

“Not at one of the ‘best Chinese restaurants around.’”

Gates gave a pained expression.  He glanced at the library across the street from the bank. 

“Gates, honey.   It’s just….”  She sighed.  “You don’t understand.”

When Gates began driving back to the motel, Mona blurted:  “To the Center.  Not that dump.”

“I’ve got to get my deposit and return the key card.”  

“You’ve got to return nothing!”

Mona sat in the Oldsmobile while Gates returned the keycard and the clerk returned his deposit.  When Gates started to ask about getting reimbursed for part of the cost of the room, the clerk cut him short.

“We charge by the night, not the hour!” he snapped.

Gates gave a glare which caused the clerk to move backwards in his chair, away from Gates’s reach.  Gates’s glare turned to a frown.  He gave a grunt.  His frown shifted to a slight smile before he turned and walked out, politely closing the door behind him.

Mona stared out the window of the Olds until they arrived back at the Liberty Center.

Just before they climbed the stairs to open the doors and check in with the man sitting behind a double-glass window, Mona turned and said:  “You are still Gates Johnson.   I still love you.  I just didn’t want to be inside a room under the thumb of that horrible little white man.”

The check-in clerk pushed the shiny metal key into Gates’s large brown hand.  Gates noticed a cluster of uneven white dots across the key as if someone had dropped acid on it.  The two inch scar above his right thumb appeared as he squeezed the key in his fist.  He recalled the accident in the machine shop of prison which left the scar.  Gates thought of the handsome, two story brick library across from the bank.  He recalled the red-bricked village hall.  He pictured the police and fire department next to it.

 Then his thoughts turned to the bank.  The layout easily glided past his memory:  sliding doors; a door on each side, unlocked; three drive-by lanes in the rear of the bank, along with a door allowing an exit but no entrance without an ATM. 

When he turned around in the middle of the lobby, Mona was already gone.  The couch made a muffled hiss as he allowed his six foot one, two hundred pound frame to fall into its cushion.  He tried to imagine how a meal tasted when cooked in a French restaurant.  He thought of driving to the airport and buying two tickets to Paris where every restaurant he and Mona passed would offer French cooking.  He wondered how many days and nights they could eat and sleep in Paris on the money he made. 

Gates remembered overhearing one of The Liberty Center counselors talking on the phone about her trip to Paris -- the meals, the slim, stylish Parisian women.  Mona could hold her own with any of them, and one up a whole lot of them.    

As he had sat upon a hard wooden chair out in the hallway, waiting for the counselor to finish talking about her trip to Paris, he remembered hearing the counselor declare how handsome the Paris police looked.  She called them gendarmes, but he knew the reference.  Pistols hanging at their hips as if they were cowboys, blue pants tucked into combat boots.   “How tall and handsome… those Parisian gendarmes,” she sighed.  Finally, Gates coughed loudly before she got off the phone and came out into the hallway to call him inside her office for their session.

He could not recall any part of their therapy session.

As he leaned forward to set his elbows on his knees, a heavy-set, aging man in the solitary chair across from him let out a low moan.  He had to be a graduate from the treatment program on the other side of the building, Gates thought. 

Mentally, Gates placed himself in the middle of the bank two blocks from the boarded up  windows of the French restaurant.  He could see every detail now.  The exits.  The entrances.  He could guess where the cameras were located.  He would have to tour the bank to check out the location of the vault.  The bank management figured they needed no security with the police and fire station across the street.   

The whole police force right across the street.  They must figure only a fool….

Gates challenged himself to make a plan. 

He would need an accomplice – a driver -- in order to arrange it.  Accomplice.  And then arrangements. 

He looked at the man sitting across from him.  The old man was moving his lips, but no words came out from his mouth.    

“A medicated mental case with brain damage from alcoholism,” he thought.  “Where,” he silently asked, “am I going to find a partner in this institution.”  

Three weeks later, the answer to his question was lying upon a mattress on the floor of the detox unit. 

Calvin Shields was forty three years old, lanky and in good shape for a drunk off the streets.  He came into the unit well-dressed.  It took him less than forty eight hours to recover enough to consider transferring to inpatient.   

Gates talked to Mona.  Mona called the intake coordinator who, in response to Mona’s friendly request, made sure Calvin Shields was interviewed, accepted, transferred into intake and then sent up to the inpatient unit all in seven days.  Gates kept Calvin supplied with cigarettes and enough cash to buy snacks, toothpaste and cologne.  After twenty eight days, Calvin graduated into The Liberty Center’s half way house for alcoholics.

The rules of the half way house program stipulated that a man had two weeks to secure an income.  Gates kept tabs on Calvin’s progress which followed a routine of rising at four in the morning in order to wait in line for a chance at day labor for minimum wage.  After Calvin finished one stint of tearing down an old grocery store, he fell on seven straight days of no work.   During those seven days, he came back to the center late in the morning looking discouraged, looking like he was ready to toss down half a dozen bourbons chased by an equal number of beers. 

It was at this point that Gates talked to the director of his program, a man no taller than five foot two who had a talent for securing whatever supplies his detox program needed.   Gates convinced the director to hire Calvin Shields as a day-time janitor.  Gates knew that getting up at six in the morning instead of four would feel rich to Calvin. 

Calvin was elated when they offered him the job.  And indebted to Gates. 

When Gates said to him, “I’m going to rob a bank.  You want to be my driver?” Calvin responded:   “I’m your man.”

It was only the following week when Gates began to explain how he planned to rob the bank, how and where he would escape that Calvin Shields became tight-faced and quiet. 

They sat across from each other in a Chinese restaurant just over a mile from the bank Gates wanted to rob. 

 “Calvin.  Now’s the time to back out if you’re scared,” Gates said to him.    

 “I’d be a fool if I wasn’t scared.  I told you already:  I’m your man.  And I won’t back out.  I owe you for picking me up off the detox floor.”   

***

Gates Johnson now faced the necessity of arrangements.  He knew where to get a van.        He would have Calvin Shields drive their escape route as many times as needed until Calvin could navigate his way to the expressway even if he was terrified and blind.   Then he would have Calvin drive six or seven times through the side streets of the bank’s neighborhood to get a  familiarity with the lay out of the area if they needed alternative get away routes. 

The third part of the arrangements was crucial.  Gates Johnson needed to rob this bank of its money, not its change.  He knew from the other men who had done time with him for armed robbery that you could walk away with no more than five to ten thousand if you robbed the tellers.  Five to ten thousand would last no more than a month.  He needed money.   He needed enough to keep Mona and him living good for a full four years and enough to cut Shields his fair share. 

Two hundred and twenty five thousand.  That’s what he needed.  He had to figure out their stash or there would be no robbery.  And if there was no robbery, he – Gates Johnson -- would be left stuffed upon a couch in the The Liberty Center staring at a brain-damaged mental case wondering how long it would take despair to carry him to the same fate. 

Gates Johnson could not convince himself that the bank manager kept the real money in a safe inside a vault that was left open throughout their business hours.   On his fourth visit, he observed a teller entering, then leaving the vault with a re-supply of currency for her station.  It was at this moment that Gates Johnson decided that the third part of his arrangements was done.    His plans were complete.   Accomplice.  Arrangements.  Out there in the near future the robbery had already taken place.  He was being driven down the expressway, heading south away from the city with one blue duffel bag stuffed with two hundred and twenty five thousand dollars. 

Gates had lunch alone at the nearby Chinese restaurant.  As he drove across the railroad tracks of the suburb whose bank – in his mind – he had already robbed, he wore a smile on his face for the first time in weeks.  He arrived back at The Liberty Center and practically sprang up the carpeted stairs leading to his room.

They would go to New Orleans, he thought as he reached the first landing.  New Orleans.  Better than Paris.  He didn’t like what he had overheard about those gendarmes.  New Orleans.  The best of all worlds – part African, part American Indian, part French – all mixed together.  His Mona would get her French restaurant.  It would be a surprise.  No need to put worry into her head beforehand.      

Accomplice, arrangements, accomplished, he smiled as he inserted the key with its white scabs into the lock of his door.    

***

Once he had calculated that the manager had stuffed two hundred and twenty five thousand dollars into the duffel, he told him to stop.  Time was more valuable than a few extra thousand.   He carried the blue duffel bag stuffed with twenties, fifties and hundreds into the brown van parked outside the bank.   As Calvin Shields started the van, the railroad gates began ringing.  The gates dropped, blocking the crossing. 

Three cars backed up immediately, preventing Shields from backing into his lane and turning left.  

“What do we do!” Calvin said.

A diesel horn blasted, followed by an unending line of freight cars.

”We’re fucked now!” Calvin blurted.    

From his passenger seat, Gates grasped Calvin’s shoulder and pulled him around to face him.

“Look at me.  Look at me, Calvin!”

Calvin stared back.

“Do exactly what I say, and we’ll be all right.”

“They’re blocking our route out of here!  We’re fucked.  We can’t get out!” 

“We’ve prepared for that fucking freight, Calvin.  Instead of River Lane, we’re going to take Hawthorne Drive to Ogden.”

Calvin looked back at him. 

“Now listen.  Carefully back this van into the right lane and turn right.” 

Calvin followed his instructions. 

“Turn right up here.” 

“That takes us in circles.  Those are the drive-by lanes.”

  “We’re not taking those lanes.  We’re going left through the alley.”

“A blind alley!  Are you crazy!”   

“This alley comes out on Hawthorne Drive.  We’ve practiced driving Hawthorne Drive seven or eight times.  Hawthorne Drive takes us directly to Ogden.”

Calvin drove the van through the narrow alley between the two apartment buildings.   He hesitated at the street.

“Left, Calvin.” 

Calvin turned left and started to speed up.

“Don’t speed!”  Gates ordered.

Calvin slowed the van.

 “See that sign with the arrow pointing to Ogden.”    

“Yea, I see it.”

Calvin halted the van at the stop light.

“Right, Calvin.  We’re going west.”

“I know, man.  You don’t have to tell me.”

He turned west on Ogden Avenue.  Less than a mile later, Calvin entered the expressway where he took the van up to cruising speed.  

They were heading south.

 “New Orleans,” Gates thought, as Calvin drove.  “She’ll eat and sleep like a queen.” 

Three hours later they stopped for gas in one of the towns off the expressway.  When he returned from using the bathroom in the fast food restaurant next to the gas station, Gates could smell alcohol inside the van.

“We’re trying to make it to New Orleans in one quick swoop.  Trying to get outside their geography as quick as all prudent hell will permit.  And you take a drink on me!   You can’t wait!”

“I’m all right,” Calvin responded.

“All right!   A few weeks ago you drank yourself ‘all right’ onto the street.  I picked you off the day labor sludge, and you take a drink on me.”

“I just had one swig.  I’m not you, Gates.  I’ve never … done a bank robbery.”

Gates became silent.  Calvin pulled the van out from the station and began heading down the road back toward the expressway.

“No, I can’t take the chance.  Turn around and park in front of that fast food place.  I’ll do the driving.”

“I can handle it,” Calvin said as he approached the ramp to the expressway.

“Turn around, man.  Now!”

Calvin pulled the van to the shoulder and turned off the engine. . 

“Don’t get stupid on me, Calvin.  They stop to help a van... looks like engine trouble… and suddenly we got a local cop sticking his gun in our face.  Start this thing and turn around.  Now!”

At that moment a state trooper passed.  Gates looked through the rearview mirror to watch the trooper’s car turn into the gas station.

“Now do what I say.  Start this van.  Pull it back on the road.  The instructions have changed.  Do not turn around.  Get back on the expressway.  Go to the next town fifteen miles ahead.  Exit and turn right toward the gas station a quarter mile up the road.  Stop in front of the pump.  While I’m inside buying something, you get out and get into the passenger seat.”

“I’ll need to use the john.” 

“Follow my instructions.  You’ll be all right.  We’ll be all right.”

Calvin’s face tightened.

Suddenly Gates caught the flashing blue lights of the trooper’s vehicle heading toward them.

“Get this van going, Calvin!  Hit the expressway south.  We can lose him!” 

Calvin started the van, and pushed down on the gas pedal.  The van swerved onto the entrance ramp.  Calvin pushed the pedal down further.  The van swerved, tipped and rolled over, landing on the driver’s side.  By the time Gates got his window open and climbed out, grasping his Smith and Wesson as he did, the state trooper had brought his flashing car to a halt on the shoulder of the ramp. 

“Step forward.  Keep your hands in the air.  Spread your feet.  Don’t move,” Gates heard the command.

Gates focused on the trooper.  The trooper was pointing an automatic straight at him, using both hands to do so.  Gates looked down at Calvin Shields, pinned in the driver’s seat.  He was shaking his head.

“Man we’re fucked,” Gates heard him say.

“We can still lose him,” Gates thought.

As he moved behind the van for cover, he raised his automatic, checking to see the magazine was secured.  The trooper had remained in front of his vehicle, exposed now as Gates fired wide.   The trooper returned the shot, shattering the window of the van where Calvin Shields lay strapped to the driver’s seat.

“Give it up,” he heard Calvin cough out.

Gates watched the trooper turn his weapon slightly to aim straight at him.  Gates aimed his weapon.  Just before he squeezed the trigger, the trooper’s bullet struck him.  Its impact knocked him backwards, leaving him lying flat on the grass, surrounded by the curved ramp leading to the expressway.  As he raised his head, he spotted a light blue BMW slow down on the shoulder.

“We can still lose him,” he thought again.

Then it became so dark that he could no longer see the cars exiting the expressway.  He could hear them.  He could hear the brakes of a tractor trailer.  The flashing lights of the trooper’s car had become blotches within the darkness.

He thought of the two white stains on the motel rug, and of Mona’s beautifully curved mouth. 

“You’ll be all right, Calvin,” he heard himself saying.

He felt himself getting lifted up.   They must have placed him on a stretcher.

“We’re taking you to the hospital,” he heard a voice.

He could feel himself being lowered upon the secure, soft cushion of the ambulance.

“They’ve shot me,” Gates realized.

***

Gates Johnson lay in a casket the worth of which could have bankrolled Mona and him for a month.  Though Gates could not see, he knew they had dressed him in that light blue shirt and red silk tie.  He would have worn that silk tie in New Orleans if he and Mona had made it there.  He had liked that silk tie in life.  He liked it now in death.

His pants were dark gray, immaculately creased to the bottom of his shoeless feet.  He did not like getting buried without his shoes.  The gray sports coat complimented his shirt and fine silk tie.  The funeral director had molded a smile upon his face.  He did not like the fake smile.  In life he had rarely smiled.   

Gates Johnson knew he was dead.  He knew Mona, who sat beside the short, slim director of the detox program, was still alive.  Calvin Shields sat in a county jail cell waiting to meet his public defender who would plea bargain Calvin into a six and a half year sentence for driving the get away vehicle in an armed robbery.

Gates had loved Mona in life.  And he loved her now in his death.  Gates knew he had done wrong things for wrong reasons.   He had paid for these flaws, though now in death he knew he had goodness at the core of his being. 

Now it was his time.  His time was neither long nor was it short.  He would remain here until it was time for another place.

In death, he had experienced Paris – its cooking, its boulevards, its parks.  He had taken in the museums, the hotels and the women.  And the gendarmes.  He wished even now that he could place a Parisian necklace around Mona’s slim neck, a Parisian bracelet around her wrist. 

Mona, he knew, would never see Paris.  Never eat in a fine French restaurant.  Gates regretted that he had never been able to offer her this.  Mona would have his child.  His son would be raised by Mona’s mother.  Mona would return to college, get a degree and become a probation officer.  He knew these things, just as he knew that Calvin Shields would be released from his six and a half year sentence in three years, seven months.  Gates knew Calvin would begin his own ministry among the men doing time with him in prison.  Calvin Shields would never take a sip of alcohol again.

Gates Johnson moved among the crowd of mourners at the small church on the west side of the city.  He took in the tears, the words, the musings, the confusion. He took in Mona’s silence and the minister’s promise of hope. 

Gates Johnson was dead.  And now this was his time.

End

About the Author:
Forest Arthur Ormes has, the past twenty years, worked as a bi-lingual clinical social worker, serving the jockeys, trainers, exercise riders, grooms and hotwalkers of the Chicago-area racetracks. His work has appeared in the late Amazing Stories Magazine, the North Dakota Quarterly and, in the March 2010, the Long Story.


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