Trev rested uneasily in the driver’s seat while Suzie pawed around a sterling silver jewelry box. She cursed her shaken fingers whenever she fumbled its contents onto the garbage-filled floor. After digging around fast-food wrappers, grocery bags, and several used needles, she hoisted a platinum bracelet in front of her face, using the late moon to study it. She’d been going at it for about an hour, driving Trev up the wall. The clanging from fine jewelry rubbing against one another twisted a nerve, something that didn’t mix well with his rolling gut.
Though annoyed, he concentrated his gaze on the convenience store. He had the perfect view of its occupants from the parking lot across the street. Inside, a Vietnamese man swept while a younger woman who looked a lot like him was restocking the beer fridge. Now was as good a time as any to prowl because the block was crowded with factories; half of them were closed for the evening, the rest abandoned.
Trev peered down. His mother’s Berretta weighed a ton in his lap. He’d never used a gun to scare anyone before. Sure, there were times when he and dad went hunting, but other than that, he had no use for them. He cringed, wanting to toss the thing out the window and drive off or sell it. But there was no time. He and Suzie had gone three days without a fix and the shivering aches were winning the drugless battle. There was no other way to kick the shuddering pain; their debt had to be satisfied.
Suzie’s rattling had come to a stop and Trev turned to find her trying on her mother’s jewelry. She slid on a diamond necklace, ruby earrings, and the platinum bracelet. Gaping in the rearview mirror, she placed an invisible microphone up to her lips.
“Oh, the movie is going great! Now that the Academy notices my talent, I can go shoot up and suck my boyfriend off with peace of mind. What do you think, boyfriend?”
She forced her fist close to his lips. Her hair and smile were grimy and tinted yellow.
“I think you’re having a lot of fun,” he said, waving her away and rocking forward trying to stop the spasms from kicking at his belly. Based on his sister’s description of childbirth, he was sure his body was nailing contractions all over.
Suzie threw her fist onto her thigh. “You’re not having second thoughts about this, are you?”
“I never said that,” Trev grumbled while shifting his attention back to the driver’s side window.
“We have a plan, and you need to stick to it.”
“I am, okay?” Trev’s baritone snapped. He rested his forehead on the steering wheel. Shivering, he cursed the crippling muscle aches.
“Look,” Suzie began calmly, “I know you’re nervous. Look at us, about to rob a store. I mean, come on.” She chuckled with both hands out and up to her shoulders. “It must be pretty serious for us to resort to this.”
“I’ve never robbed a place with a gun before,” said Trev. Another surge of pain pegged through him and he grimaced. His stomach was folding in on itself as if he had just taken a swift punch to the gut. Trev placed his pointy elbow on the driver’s side window and rested his ear on his bony fingers. He could feel the grime in his long, dark, stringy hair that he hadn’t washed or combed in weeks. He could make out his reflection in the window. His cotton ski mask was bunched up into a beanie, hiding his crown. His dark eyes were more like empty orbs. Paralyzed and cold.
“I know you can, baby. Remember, we have to do this,” Suzie said. “We can’t dodge Rodney forever. We have to pay him. This is the only way to be sure we have all the money.” She reached over and rubbed his back with her trembling hands. He pulled away and narrowed his eyes at her. For her to be in such a decrepit state, she sure wasn’t apprehensive.
She’s not the one about to rob a store.
“Just go in there, point the gun at them, and demand the cash,” she went on, “They’ll give it to you because they’ll be scared, so just take the bag and get the fuck outta there. Easy!” She went back to admiring the fine jewelry she was trying on for size in the mirror. “Don’t you want another fix?”
Suzie was right. He owed Rodney money for heroin that he’d fronted over. Trev could never keep up with the tab. In his permanently high state, he was sure he owed $251. The jewelry and the money from the robbery would be more than enough to pay the debt and buy their next fix, and perhaps some food. Or maybe a few fixes and a bottle of water. They’d cross that bridge when they got there, as always. Trev sighed and wondered how he’d gotten there. He used to make fun of junkies and he’d always told himself, and Suzie, that he could kick the habit whenever. But now he needed it more than ever.
“Listen to me, Trev,” Suzie cuffed his cheeks. Eager for a distraction, he fixated on her round face. Skimming past the unforgivable craters and blackheads that evaded her sucked in cheeks, he found her glossy blue eyes and instantly felt warm and comfortable. “I love you. You have to do this for us.” Suzie pressed her dry lips against his. It felt like sucking splinters from a log, and he fought the urge to cringe. “I will be here looking out,” she said while leaning back into her seat.
Though his belly burned, he was calmed. He saw Prom Queen 2008 of Loyola High School where everyone else saw a useless heroin addict. According to Suzie’s parents, she was supposed to be at Harvard studying law or in Los Angeles pursuing a modeling career. Instead, she was here, helping Trev execute robbing a convenience store in the industrial district. He loved her for that. She made him feel like he wasn’t an inadequate junkie who’d nearly dragged his parents into bankruptcy. According to her, Trev was her hero, partner, protector and best friend. She needed him and he’d do anything to fulfill her expectations. No matter how obscene or dangerous. He wanted to make their hands stop shaking and stomachs stop hurting. And most of all, he needed to escape from reality with the sensual rush and lucid dreaming.
Fuck, I need it.
He sucked in the stale garbage that suffocated the van’s air. The smell sent a shudder up his spine. Or maybe it was the withdrawals. He didn’t have time to figure it out; he knew he was stalling. He sharply expelled the air from his lungs and his head felt lite. Though he’d gone a day without food or water, the need for another fix inspired him to pull it together. Suzie had done her part by stealing the jewelry. Now it was his turn to deliver—at gunpoint.
Trev smiled. “Okay,” he said. “Here goes nothing!” He was so close to getting another fix, he could taste it. He peered at the Vietnamese man. He was counting the register, marking Trev’s opportunity to pounce.
Trev pulled the ski mask over his narrow face and caressed the Berretta. He slid it into the pouch of his black hoodie. Then he grabbed a plastic grocery bag from underneath the passenger seat, got out of the van, and slammed the door behind him.
Rushing up to the entrance, his limbs threaten to give in under his weight. His stomach was full of flutters, and he felt like he might vomit. The sweats soaked his forehead making the knit mask cling to him. His fingers trembled and his heart felt like it might burst.
Fuck. I should just turn around and tell her the door’s locked.
But that wasn’t an option. He had to do this or his aches would kill him or perhaps worse, her. After taking a deep breath, he peered inside. The man at the register hadn’t noticed him. He was too busy licking his thumb and flicking through bills. Trev could see himself handing them over to Rodney and leaving with a bag of brown goodness.
The new-found adrenalin drowned out the aches and doubts, pushing him forward.
Inside, he winced and tried to adjust to the white light, walls and floor.
“We are closed,” said the man in a heavy Vietnamese accent. He’d rested his hand in the open drawer while gaping at Trev. Close up, he looked much older. Streaks of grey stuck out his hairline and his face was plastered in dents and lines. The man’s eyes drooped with exhaustion. The petite younger woman stopped scrubbing the counter. Her eyes bulged at Trev’s face. The ski mask must’ve made the means of his visit clear.
Trev walked up to the counter, pulled the gun from his pouch, and aimed it at the man’s head. “Put the money in the fucking bag,” he blurted. It came out shakier than he intended but the gun was stagnant. Trev felt the man’s worry when he shoved the grocery bag into his chest, nearly knocking him over. His old hands staggered about the drawer, fumbling dollar bills in one and dropping the plastic bag from the other.
“PUT THE MONEY IN THE BAG! NOW!” Trev shouted. “HURRY THE FUCK UP!”
After retrieving the bag, the man shoved his day’s earnings inside. His head hung and his eyes, wet.
Then, a subtle crackling sound from the right beckoned Trev’s attention.
The woman was standing behind the counter, but closer to the door. She dropped the receiver on the counter and raised her hands. He could see her heart jumping out of her chest and her shaky whimpering was more like a mild panic attack.
Trev’s jaw trembled as he bit his lower lip. His head banged and his face, hot. All he wanted was the money and no one would be harmed. But prison was out of the question. He had to pay his debt for him and Suzie. They needed to kick the withdrawals, and these people were getting in the way.
Trev shifted the barrel and pulled the trigger. The bullet punched a hole in the woman’s throat and blood blasted outward, spritzing the white counter and the wall. Her button up was drenched in crimson as she stumbled back grasping her throat. Choking, she dropped to her knees and fell face down.
“NO! MY CAI! MY CAI! What have you done, you…you JUNKIE!” the man wailed.
“SHUT UP!” Trev screamed, pointing the gun back in his face. “HURRY UP!”
The adrenaline from the shooting brought an eerie, warm feeling. It was almost as good as a fix or sex.
Trev smirked. This is what power must feel like.
Sobbing, the man finished filling Trev’s sack. Trev snatched the plastic bag, and without another thought, pulled the trigger. The bullet crashed into the man’s forehead, carrying brain matter and blood with it as it punctured the wall. The man fell to the floor like a hacked tree.
Trev made a swift exit out of the store, dashed across the street, and hopped into the driver’s seat of the rusted minivan. He threw the bag into Suzie’s lap and the tires shrieked.
The adrenaline flowing through Trev’s body was an unforeseen euphoria. He never thought he would get such a rush from taking a life, or two. He felt like he could make a career out of it. Rocking back and forth, he pressed the accelerator, doing 70-mph in a 50-mph zone.
Trev howled, “OWWOOOOO! Did you see that shit, baby? SHIT!” A jolt shot through him. “Shit, baby. SHIT! How much money is in there?”
Suzie organized the bills by notation counting several times before reporting. “$542.62.” She leaned over and planted her lips on Trev’s neck.
“Not now, babe,” he said cuffing her flat stomach and pushing her away. “Let’s go pay Rodney, get some smack and xannies going, and then we can chill out. We can do anything you want.”
“Okay, baby,” she whispered in his ear, then retreated to the passenger seat.
He parked on the curb in front of an abandoned house. Either side was a bare field and a burnt down colonial, merely silhouettes in the night.
“Stay here, Suzie,” Trev said tucking $270 in his pouch and reaching around back for the jewelry box. He started for the gun but stopped. Staring at the closed glove compartment, he thought, we’re going to keep that, just in case. He kissed Suzie’s cheek and hopped out.
The dark vinyl sidings and black trimmings gave the colonial a haunted house feel. The cement steps were riddled with cracks and holes. The windows and doors were boarded up with planks from the inside. Weeds and wild shrubs choked the lawn and a sign planted to the front door read “Neighborhood Watch” with a picture of eyes with exaggerated eyebrows and eyelashes. As Trev trudged up the cracked driveway, a chill nearly froze him in place. It felt like those eyes were watching him. But he kept moving for the side door which was boarded up from the top to the middle, right above the doorknob. He banged on it once.
“Titty jiggler,” Trev said to the door.
It creaked ajar. Trev climbed under the planks that covered the top half of the door, struggling to make room. The moon rays shone on the tight platform and bounced off the bald head of the tall, fat man who’d let him in. The man scolded Trev as if he’d disturbed him from something.
“Go downstairs,” the man’s deep voice commanded.
“I know the drill, man,” Trev replied, rolling his shoulders.
He turned and peered down the staircase. Carefully, he stepped from the platform and onto the first step, using his toes to tap and lead him to the next. Trev’s stomach lurched as he continued down, suffocating the entire way. The air was damp and warm. And heavy. Too heavy. He took a deep breath, begging his heart to slow down. At the base of the steps, an orange flare sputtered off the cement walls.
The basement, as always, reeked of mildew and sewer water as if the pipes had burst years ago, and had gone uncleansed. The smell made Trev sick to his stomach every time he stopped by. The fact is, the place put him on edge. Rodney could’ve had bodies or drugs down there but they’d go unseen. Trev preferred meeting at Rodney’s condo, but at night, he’d only find him here.
Rodney was sitting on a long rectangular table top. There was a candle sitting at the foot of it and two men standing on either side. They were just as big as the man who let him in. The candle light wavered off Rodney’s white baseball cap and sweater. His bottoms and complexion, merely imperceptible.
“Just in time. I was wondering if you were ever going to show up,” Rodney said.
“I got something for you,” Trev said. He presented the $270 and the jewelry box. Rodney lifted himself from the table top and took the payment.
“I have to say, I was getting worried that you wouldn’t follow through,” Rodney said, shoving the jewelry box under his armpit and flicking through the bills.
“What are you talking about, man? You know I will always pay up and then st—”
“Not you,” Rodney said, picking up the candle from the table. “Her.”
Trev turned to see Suzie standing behind him, the candlelight playing off her big blue eyes.
“What’s going on?” Trev asked.
The three men grabbed Trev’s arms and legs and slammed his back onto the table. He kicked and hollered as they wrapped nylon cables around ankles, pinning them to the table. Then, they wrapped his midsection and wrists down. Then his chest. The chaffing wood was damp and icy as it pierced his skin. His toes bulged and his fingers went numb. He wiggled his waist and tried to bend his knees, but the knots didn’t budge.
“Thanks, Suzie,” Rodney said. “You can keep the money. I’ll take the jewelry.” He tossed the money onto the floor near Suzie, who scrambled to retrieve it.
“And the H?” She asked after finding her footing.
“Oh. Yeah. Can’t forget that.” He tossed a small balled, plastic bag and laughed as she shuffled about, trying to find it. “Now leave,” he snarled.
Suzie did just that.
“RODNEY, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, MAN?” he screamed. “SUZIE!”
“How much money do you owe me, Trev?” Rodney asked. With no choice but to stare at the ceiling, if there was one, he followed Rodney’s voice.
“Like two hundred bucks, dude,” Trev whined. “I fucking gave it to you! I don’t fucking know what Suzie told you, but I brought the money! It’s all there!”
“You fucking junkie piece of shit! I gave you twenty-five hundred dollars of heroin to sell.” Rodney’s voice dropped as if he was explaining carefully, “You were to keep fifty percent of the profit; I was to get the twenty-five hundred dollars and the other fifty percent. Do you not remember that conversation? You wanted to work for me, right?”
“Fuck,” Trev whimpered. He shuddered as icy sweat trickled down the sides of his face. His body quaked and his eyes moistened. In truth, he and Suzie celebrated his new drug dealing career by doing the heroin in a couple weeks’ time.
Trev’s return to reality was interrupted by a burst of laughter.
“Oh, wait. You decided to use that shit, right? Just say fuck my money, huh? Make me look for you, trick you into coming here? I don’t like when people think that because they’re your friend they can get away with not paying you. So your junkie bitch promised to lure you here, for a fix. That’s all it took. You stole from me and then cowered like a bitch and hid! You made me look for you! I don’t look for junkies! They look for me! Sorry, bro.” Trev flinched when Rodney patted at the cables wrapped around his chest. “Well, no. No. No. No. I am not sorry because you ain’t shit. Nothing but a piece of fucking junkie smut! Take care of this asshole, Vinny. I don’t want to ruin my new shoes.”
One of the men carried a candle closer where Trev tried to kick and pull limbs from the table. Trev could now make out the ceiling. It was cement with old cables and rusty pipes zigzagging throughout. Countless cobwebs took up residence between the gaps where the pipes met. He realized this was the last thing he would see. There was no way he’d get out.
The big man who escorted Trev into the basement, Vinny, walked over to the end of the table, where Trev’s head bucked and bobbed. His sweaty, stringy hair flapping every which way. Vinny crouched, picked up something and lifted it over Trev’s face. A cinder block. The stones embedded throughout the cement block glimmered in the candlelight.
Trev howled and squirmed trying once more to shake free. The men laughed at his efforts. Failing, he decided he couldn’t plead or speak. He could only hold his breath. He braced his body into the table hoping Suzie would come back with the gun.
Trev started to whimper. Mom and Dad would be looking for him soon, wanting to persuade him to try rehab again. But instead of dragging him to a lousy rehab session, they’d be burying him. And he’d have a closed-casket funeral for sure. That’s if they ever found him. He imagined some kids being knocked off their bikes by the smell of rotting flesh as they rode past the creepy house on a hot summer day, months from now.
Then, the gory image from earlier flashed before his eyes. The faces of the people he’d killed less than an hour ago was his last high. The power over life and death was terrifying but empowering. But who would trust a sloppy, murdering, forgetful junkie with any sort of supremacy? Trev felt a new hatred for himself. Everyone would be happy that he was dead. Even Suzie, who he’d lived to please. No doubt she’d move on to a new guy, make him love her, then turn him over to their drug dealer once he became a risk or there was no use for him anymore.
“Any last words, Trev?” Rodney asked. His voice seemed far away. An echo in Trev’s migraine.
“Please…” Trev sobbed. “Please, not like this, Rod.”
Rodney shushed Trev, patting him gently on the cheek. “Goodbye.”
Vinny dropped the cinder block, and it hit with a sickening smack.