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The Fifth Fire: A Tale of Loyalty

TheGarbageManFeb 2, 2018, 5:20:37 PM

I was raised on stories like these. My dad influenced much of this tale, his exploits buried to all but his son who listened and was amazed at what his father's life was like before he had me. I tried a switching narrative style of storytelling here, going from the italicized forethought to the actual action of the tale. Remember, all we really have is our family and friends. Loyalty isn't measured in politics or rank, but in actions and time.

Safe Way

It had started like any other robbery. First, we made the cashier open the register. That part is always easy because most people do what they’re told when a gun is pressed against their forehead.

When Pete first joined the gang, there was only two rules. First, never rob your partners. Though the saying, “honor amongst thieves” seemed to be their only notion of morality, most would still sell you out a mile to get ahead an inch.

The store clerk’s wife, some not-quite-elderly, but damn sure close, was trembling and trying to get the words out to beg for her life. I held firm and just whispered reassuringly back that she could go home with her brain still inside her skull if she would just open the fucking register right the fuck now.

The second rule was never hit a mom and pop’s shop. Originally we pretended to be Robin Hood of the corporate grocers that were steadily shutting down every single corner market and small-scale merchants, sold out by their own cities, their own politicians, their own customers. We went from city to city, hitting a Safeway with a 7-11 in between. One stop shop, I tell ya.

“Don’t you touch my wife!” The surely-was-elderly shopkeeper yelled up from the floor, Pete’s shotgun still firmly pressed against his neck.

Had to give him a nod on that, takes balls to say, let alone yell a sentence of determination and ferocity, even from a most humbling of positions.

Pete, me, and the gang had always hit up the bigger stores anyways, they always had more money. But times had changed and the so had the game. As technology and security got better, the gang had to figure out quicker and smarter ways of robbing these super-markets.

“Hurry the fuck up, Bill!”, Pete called to me as the shop-keep looked to be getting brave enough to try and stand. Bill wasn’t my real name, it was the one name we called each other, a false scent for the cop noses later.

When we first started, it was as simple as shooting one shot in air, grabbing the manager, and then going on down the row of registers, picking them off one by one. Then get the manager to open the safe, if you had time.

I grabbed all the cash out of the opened register while waving the barrel of my revolver as a magic wand to make shopkeeper's wife get the fuck back. The register had about $300 bucks in it, from a quick glance. Good, but not great.

Sometimes they’d suddenly get tough at that point. All you had to do was grab the prettiest co-worker of theirs and that safe that he didn’t have the code to opened up pretty quickly.

Those were the good times.

I heard the heavy, thick thump of Pete’s wooden stock hitting the back of the shopkeeper's back, not enough to hurt him bad, just more of a stun and reassurance that his life was not in his control right now. Pete whirled the shotgun back around so as the barrel could be re-pointed at the shopkeeper's head.

Other times you’d have to risk an assault charge if you ever got caught. It was better than murder but still adds about 5 to 10 years to your sentence. And if you’re in a group, well it doesn’t matter who did the hitting, you’re all getting charged.

“I told you to keep your fucking head down or your fucking old lady over here is next, you got me?!” 

Pete never did like to yell, but when he did, as was just the case, there was a certain amount of power in his voice that made you either voluntarily want to do what he told you, or at least do it because you were afraid of what might happen if you didn’t.

The times before the helicopters, the long-range radios, the silent alarms, the armed security, the less-than-tolerant sheriffs, who’d rather shoot you than book you, those were the good times. Great times even. You could go rob and be drunk the half the time. The whole time if you brought liquor with you. Now we did our drinking later, had to keep sharp and not slip for a second.

We ran out with the money, cigarettes, and some booze for later. Pete slid across the hood, his little fancy trick he loved to do, and jumped into the driver's seat of our green Skylark waiting outside. He turned the keys and, like a charm, the engine revved to life, eager to get the fuck out of there.

As the times got harder, the bigger stores became sort of a City on the Hill for a lowly gang of robbers like us. We had aspirations to it, even tried planning a couple. But the end result was always the same: Go try somewhere else that didn’t have the money to pay for high-tech security and guards.

I looked up at the shop sign as I ducked my head into the front passenger seat. It said “Bill & Maggie’s Grocery Store”.

It all added up to one option: Start robbing the Mom and Pop’s shops.

As we got on Interstate 309, we could hear the police sirens heading from the left towards Bill and Maggie’s. Pete pressed his foot down on the gas petal and the engine revved and picked up speed in response.

The usual trick about sirens is that if you didn't hear them after about ten minutes, you were good to go. If not, well you better buckle up for a chase.

Pete never did like the idea. Told the gang that he’d rather we look into a different means of gaining capital. We all said we weren’t interested in no blue-collar crime or anything to do with computers. If it didn’t involve guns and cold, hard cash in their hands instantly, the gang would never go for anything else.

The flashing red and blue light in my passenger side window told me that we weren’t getting away clean this time. I rechecked the rounds in my revolver just to mentally wake myself up to what might happen in the next few minutes.

Still, Pete wondered aloud if there wasn’t a better way of taking money from those that didn’t deserve it, at least according to Pete. Pete was a good kid, just hopped on with the gang too late in its life.

Like a bubble, the front windshield suddenly bloated forwards, creating a glass dome outside the cab of the Skylark. Before we could figure out what the fuck was happening, the bullet blast hit our ears. 

As soon as we heard the piercing boom, the windshield collapsed back, shattering into and through us. 

Pete kept steady the whole time, my mind racing to figure what was happening and what I should be doing.

I looked over to Pete, still firmly concentrated on the road in front of him, blood streaking down from the cuts in his face.

The cops had shot at us and I knew we weren’t getting out of this one. Not together anyways.

I couldn’t let Pete go down. It was just me and him now. All the others from the gang got picked off, quit, or are buried in places only Pete and I know. I knew what I had to do.

“Stop the car.”

Pete,  knowing that when I said jump, you do it before even asking “how high”, stopped the car instinctively.  He turned to me, nearly panicked.

“What the hell you planning? We need to get going before those fucking pigs catch up and skin us alive!”

“I ain’t running no more, Pete.” I looked at him long and hard to convey my seriousness. “If we keep running, they’ll catch us both.”

I stepped outside the Skylark onto the hard, dark pavement and readied my pistol.

“Now go, kid!” I yelled.

Pete knew better than to argue with me after I had pretty much done what I said I was going to. He just looked at me with a certain sadness only reserved for friends separating for a long time.

“See ya when you get out, old timer.” He laughed and then gunned it, creating an even blacker tire streak smoking across the pavement surface.

I kept my eyes on the skylark as it flew into the distant, rising sun that was lighting up Interstate 309. I smiled and felt happy that at least one of us was going to get out of this.

I turned my pistol and aimed it at the tires of the fast approaching police cruiser, it’s sirens loud warnings of the long sentence ahead. 

I shot twice and hit the front driver side tire once. Got a few years added on my sentence for that one, but I know that’s what saved Pete and let him get away.

The police car slammed down into the pavement and came to a screeching, spark-filled stop just a few hundred feet from where I stood.

I fired three more shots, each one bouncing off nothing. I had saved the last bullet in my revolver for myself, not expecting to make it alive. 

One of the cops shot me before I could shoot myself and I faded to black, happy to have had one last run and one good ending...

* * *

I awoke, strapped to a hospital bed, and a uniformed officer sitting on watch in the corner. 

That would be about how I spent the next 30 years, strapped or chained or confined with an armed guard making sure I kept good.

* * *

As I got out of the prison, walking free with 10 years knocked off for good behavior during my 30 year stint, I wondered what the fuck I was even going to do. 

I had a bus ticket, good for anywhere in the country, but the only family I knew wanted nothing to do with me.

I glanced around the prison parking lot, just amazed at being on the other side of the gate and then I saw it. I saw the green Skylark, with Pete sitting there in the driver seat! Albeit a chubbier, balding, older Pete, but it was him!

“Hey, old-timer. Heard they were letting your crotchety-ass out today, thought you might need a ride to the homeless shelter.”

It was as if the fucker had left me on Interstate 309 all the years ago with the plan of picking me back up thirty fucking years later.

I got in and we went on and on about the bullshit we had both missed. I was done in about as long as takes to tell someone you woke, shit, ate, showered, stood, ate, read, and slept for thirty years straight.

Pete, however, had been quite busy with that blue-collar crime he had been talking about. Apparently, he had used the money we had saved up, (it was quite a bit, enough for one person, not yet for two), and financed hackers and coders to steal money from various financial planners throughout the late 80’s to early 90’s.

He then got out and went legit, buying stores and franchises and making himself a legitimate business man. A rich, legitimate businessman.

He asked which of our stores I wanted to go to first.

“You got us a Safeway?”

Pete just smiled, driving us further towards the setting sun.