Jason killed the engine and opened the window. The night air smelled of urine beneath the broken streetlights. His brother was in the sheet-metal building across the way, gathering a million of someone else’s dollars. TK knew where it was. He’d beaten the information out of his cellmate.
A garbage truck rumbled past and stopped, blocking the lane. A man wearing an orange vest jumped off and strode toward the overflowing trashcans lining the gutter. He was silhouetted by the luminous stained glass Madonna that glowed on the towering church window at the end of the street.
Jason’s aunt had often taken him there as a kid.
He hunkered into the seat, trying not to be seen, hiding behind trembling fingers. He squinted, feigning sleep. From beneath the blur of his lashes the radiant Mother resembled TK’s wife, Candi, the woman Jason had been sleeping with nightly for the past ten months.
They didn’t know TK had been released early. He called that morning while Candi chattered in the background.
There was a ragged copy of a centerfold in Jason’s drawer that he’d kept since dropping out of college. An eighteen year old Candi posed as Miss July. Her major turn off was listed as being alone. She’d showed up at Jason’s apartment the day after TK had been sent upstate. His brother was away. Candi had needs. Youthful desires lingered. A dark fantasy came true.
The trash truck lurched forward, brakes crying like tortured puppies when it stopped at the next collection point. Choir voices wafted along the filthy alleys and graffiti-streaked walls. Father Chavez still closed the service with the same song. Jason remembered the stiff collared man waiting at the alter with a hopeful grin, eyes watching him, pleading.
TK was a mountain with a temper fueled by meth and jealousy. He had been slated as a second round draft pick for the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line until a stab wound in a bar fight severed a tendon. Jason saw him nearly tear a guy’s arm off for touching Candi on the dance floor.
Just touching her.
Jason bit his bottom lip with grinding teeth until pain shuddered through him. He ran a palm across the stubble of his chin. Wet. Bloody. He cursed and used his sleeve to dab the wound. TK’ll do worse if he heard her in the apartment. But maybe he didn‘t know. He tore at his hair. Candi kept a gun beneath her nightstand. He’d wanted to bring it just in case things went bad with TK. It was missing. I’d never have gotten a drop on him anyway.
The passenger door jerked opened and TK folded himself inside. “Drive.”
The keys fumbled through Jason’s fingers and he swore. His voice tightened and stammered like a schoolgirl in the principal’s office. “Y-you get it?“ Heat flushed his cheeks. He turned the ignition, the engine catching on the second try.
TK patted a box balanced on his lap. “I keep my promises.”
“They won’t report us?“
“It’s a chop-shop. You think they’re gonna call the police? Cry because all their illegal cash was stolen?” His laugh was a deriding baritone. “You’ve always been an idiot.”
The doors of the church parted and worshipers trickled onto the steps, mingling, talking, beaming. Jason accelerated, merging with the traffic that spilled from the parking lot. In the corner of his eye he saw TK holding Candi’s lost gun. He swallowed. “Take the money, man. All of it. Just don‘t go crazy.”
“Nobody does my girl. Not even my little brother.”
Cars began to stack behind the garbage truck that still crawled along the narrow road. Red from brake lights painted TK’s flesh, making him look like a demon. Jason’s breath caught in constricted lungs, his world faltered into slow motion. “It’s not like what you think.” A family walked together along the sidewalk, mother and father each holding a hand of their young son. The child turned to Jason and smiled.
“What details do you think I want to hear?”
The boy began singing Jesus Loves Me as his parents swung him.
Jason‘s eyes welled, his mind flooded with the despair of opportunities lost. He turned toward TK. “Everything’s broken. I messed it all up.”
“Don‘t screw around with the devil.”
“I want to go back--” A muzzle flash filled the car for an explosive instant. Thunder turned to cotton as the life was forced from Jason’s body. The door opened.
Jason fell into blackness.
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